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thank goodness


 Weekly Meditations

If you have questions or suggestions, please refer to our contact details below to reach us.

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Outquotes

 Below, you will find some of our favourite "learnings" from our weekly readings.

 True greatness is within our reach

Based on meditation for Sept. 19, 2021


     The great orchestra conductor and composer, the late Leonard Bernstein, was once asked, “What’s the most difficult instrument to play?”

     “Second fiddle,” Bernstein responded. “I can get plenty of first violinists, but I have a hard time getting someone to play second fiddle. Yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”

      Well, few of us want to play second fiddle, either. The desire to fit in with society around us makes us all want to be first.

     Yet, according to Jesus Christ, true greatness is not how much we have,  but how much we do for others.

Note to all the "Church Ladies" out there!

                       Take a break!

July 18, 2021

Author Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about a woman she had a discussion with … and this person had stopped going to church. Taylor says church just sounds like work these days … more responsibility in a world where we have allowed ourselves to become overburdened with the things that don’t really count in the large scheme of things. We have allowed ourselves to become so over-worked that we are staggering under loads that are already too heavy. And along come we Christians asking these people to join our church and spread the Gospel and be the face of Christ in the world …. Be the face of Hope in this world … and this overburdened woman looked at Barbara Brown Taylor and she said: “Barbara, I’m sorry, but I don’t WANT to be that important!”

    We are often like that woman. We just can’t take any more, can we? We hear the invitation to Minister to others and it scares us! We’re too tired to cook that meal for the homeless; we don’t have the time to take that person to the hospital appointment; we can’t find the time to teach Sunday School or let alone take the neighbour’s kid to soccer practice.

    What we hear in the invitation to follow Christ is just an invitation to do “More” To be even more busy; to be more generous; to be more loving; to be more faithful … and we just want to run away and hide.

    What we’re NOT hearing is the still, small voice of God. We’re NOT hearing a voice from the One who loves us asking us to be who we are right now. To be Ministers of the Word in the things we are doing right now. And to do it with the full knowledge and understanding that we are God’s people in this world.

    Did Jesus ever say “No!”? You bet he did! He said No to the sellers in the Temple … and remember he said no to Mary and Martha who asked him to hurry up and change his plans and come to the house because Lazarus was sick. He told them no …. That he would be there in two days … not NOW.

He even told his own Mother that No, he wouldn’t come out of the house to see her one day when he was visiting and working with others.

    Jesus understood perfectly who he was and what his Mission on earth was at that time. He went on retreats. He sat by wells and under trees in the heat of the day. He knew he was human and needed to rest if he was to renew his strength – both physically and spiritually.

Adopted by God

July 11, 2021


   We are all One in Christ. All living creatures are included in God’s grace.

To God, we are all One …. Period. Full stop. For God has chosen us to live on earth. And we didn’t have to do anything to have the Great Creator breathe life into us in the first place! What a gift!

    We are chosen. We are blessed.

    Walk with your head held high, for you are precious children of God. You are forgiven and you are loved.

    Thanks be to God. Amen.

Our "Shadow sides"

From May 30

 It is said we all have our “shadow sides” of our personalities. Those things that we don’t want to show in the daylight to other people. Author John Mombourquette wrote a book called: “How to Befriend Your Shadow: Welcoming Your Unloved Side.” The premise of his book is that each of us has a 'shadow', composed of everything we have driven into our unconscious for fear of being rejected by the people we loved when we were young. He writes that over the years, we created a whole underground world filled with things that were shameful, displeasing or upsetting to those around us.

   And, of course, Mombourquette attempts to help people navigate their way out of shame and grief in order that they can become full people – just as God intended. His book is not spiritual, so allow me to put it into words that work for me: Our Lord God, our Jesus Christ, the very one whom Nicodemus came to see under the cover of darkness, does not want you to live in a state of shame until the end of your days. Jesus teased Nic by saying “Hey! You’re a leader of your people and yet you come to me with such questions!” But Jesus Christ did not publicly shame Nicodemus for coming to him in darkness – which can be translated as a lack of understanding. Instead, he was welcomed and he was taught. Jesus took the time to teach him about God’s truth. Christ welcomed Nicodemus – an outsider to the established troupe that travelled with Jesus – with Grace and with radical love.

God can handle all our questions

A selection from the meditation for April 18, Easter 3

   Thomas didn't pretend. He didn't fake his belief. He told the truth. Was he "doubting Thomas"? Well, perhaps. But even more importantly he was "honest Thomas."

   We shouldn’t judge ourselves or others for questioning. Doubt is a natural part of the faith journey of many Christians. We should take our questions and concerns in prayer to God. God can handle our doubt. I can assure you of that. God welcomes our questions … because it gives us the opportunity to be open to hearing the answers. And all answers point to the truth as Christ brought to us.

   I remember reading an article in Time magazine several years after the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta about some letters she had written to her confessor. They had just been released to the public and they surprised me! In them, she confessed the guilt and shame she had felt for most of her life because she questioned her faith in God.

   I don’t think in her lifetime any of us would have guessed the inner turmoil she was feeling over her doubt. She just continued to do the work she felt called to do. It was work that followed the call of Christ who tells us to walk and live among the poor. To welcome the outcast into our midst and to heal and comfort our fellow children of God. This was certainly the work Mother Teresa did!

   It’s obvious to me that God had faith in her! Even when and if she wasn’t sure about her faith in God. It’s always been a two-way street.

   Maybe that’s what we should be more concerned with … living our lives as though God’s trust and faith in us is well-founded and deserved.

Stephen King loves what he gets from God, 

but still has doubts

An illustration from the Easter 2 meditation about Doubting Thomas

  You all know who the author Stephen King is? Undeniably, he’s a creative, intelligent person…. I don’t know how many millions of books he’s sold.

He was interviewed one time and asked about God.

He said religion and faith have always interested him, and interests him more the older he gets. He says he wants to believe that there is something more “on the other side,” as he explains it.

This is a quote from King: “For me, life is so rich—so colourful, and full of good things: things to read, things to eat, things to watch, places to go, new experiences —that I don't want to think that you just go to darkness ….

I choose to believe [in God]. There's no downside to that. If you say, ‘Well, OK, I don't believe in God. There's no evidence of God,’ then you're missing the stars in the sky and you're missing the sunrises and sunsets and you're missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design.”

And then, after saying all that, King went on to say that he chooses to believe in God, but he still has serious doubts.

In other words, he struggles in his faith. And that's okay. Because when you question, you grow as you find the answers.

The God of Good Friday: an excerpt from a meditation by Nadia Bolz-Weber

  I’m not sure which is worse about what I was taught: the fact that we had somehow made God out to be a divine child abuser or that we had made God out to be an angry loan shark demanding his pound of flesh.

Either way, I don’t think that’s really who God really is. But I do think that whole mess is what we get when we think the cross is about us and not about God.

No wonder people want to go from glory to glory and skip the cross.

Because when we think the cross is about us, the only view we can have of God, is of God standing in heaven with folded arms looking down at the cross judging us but punishing Jesus. But the thing is, God isn’t standing above the cross. God is hanging from the cross.

Maybe the problem starts when we think we can know who God is by just looking at who we are, and then projecting that up really big. We’re vengeful so God must be vengeful. We are power-hungry so God must be power hungry. We want to smite our enemies, so God must want to smite our enemies. That’s why it’s hard to imagine that God would willingly choose to be poured out for us on the cross because, well, we’d never do a thing like that.

Yet in the end, it’s like that quote from Einstein “the same thinking that created a problem cannot solve the problem.” We cannot be saved by a God who is just a bigger, bad-er version of the worst parts of us or a bigger better version of the best parts of us.

But we can see who God actually is, when we see how God chose to reveal God’s self in a humble cradle and on a human cross.

The Thunk

   From March 21


   A lot of people both outside and INSIDE the church don’t realize that Christians have all different kinds of thoughts and ways of explaining the Word. We are not all the same – I think in any church, we are a people who view our faith as a religion of love and acceptance and mercy and grace. We are people with spirits and brains and souls and hearts that are fully engaged in the ways of Jesus Christ. Christ has chosen us – and we, intelligent, thinking, compassionate people have chosen Christ.

And it sure isn’t easy in today’s world. We’re always running up against the Thunk … and there’s something else called The Gap. The Thunk and the Gap.

The Thunk has been created by the Gap.

There is a gap between Christianity and the world. The Gap has been growing because … well there’s a whole lot of reasons. Let me throw out a couple … as I’ve been saying here today, people misunderstand who we are – and as long as we do all our business and worship and good deeds inside walls and behind doors – they will never know who we are or what we do – except for what they see on TV every time a church acts up and misbehaves.

And a second reason there’s a growing Gap is because of something psychologists call “religious wounding.”

Too many good people have been hurt in the past by the doctrines of their churches or the people in their churches.

For example, when a faithful person struggles with poverty and gets a message in church that we only care about what they put on the offering plate, then a wound is inflicted. Conversely, when people hear that people of wealth are the root of all our problems, a wound is inflicted.

From March 14:


Jay Shetty (author of "Think Like a Monk", shares the answer of his spiritual teacher, Radhanath Swami, after he was asked how we can be a positive force in the world with all this negativity around us. Swami told him: “There is toxicity everywhere around us. In the environment, in the political atmosphere, but the origin is in people’s hearts. Unless we clean the ecology of our own heart and inspire others to do the same, we will be an instrument of polluting the environment. But if we create purity in our own heart, then we can contribute great purity to the world around us.”


 

From March 7, 2021


   Following is a page from Harold Ivan Smith's book: "When You Don't Know What to Say," published by Smith himself and Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City; 2006, 2012, pg. 52:


    "How do you think Joan is doing?" There are several variations on this basic question. Too commonly, the bereaving are forced to go underground with their grief. Subtly, we day - "If you must grieve, do it in private - not where we can see it and definitely not where we can feel it." Grievers who thoroughly grieve, make many of us nervous. We say things like, "What? You're STILL grieving? Why it's been weeks (months)!"

    A "What" can reverberate like thunder. Doug Manning captured this thought in his great book titled "Don't Take My Grief Away from Me." Sometimes the grief-sharer needs to say, "don't et anyone take your grief from you!"

   Manning points out, "You deserve it and you must have it. If you had a broken leg, no one would criticize you for using crutches before it was healed.

... Grief is a major wound. It does not heal overnight. You must have the time and the crutches until you heal." (pg.. 65)

   Grief-sharers (that's you!) can give permission to grievers to take time to heal. It takes time to thoroughly grieve."


________________________________

From Feb. 28:


Joyce Rupp will be a name familiar to many of you. For many years, this author and Roman Catholic has led spiritual retreats around the world. She has written countless best-selling books.

   In 1997, she wrote a lovely creative guide, called “The Cup of Our Life: A Guide for Spiritual Growth.” In it, there is a passage in which she writes about the “broken cups” in our lives: 

“The broken cup reminds me of those times when hurts, wounds, pains and adversities of all sorts invade our lives and change us forever. During these times, all we can do is try to survive, slowly recover, and start anew. It is often difficult for us to give or receive during this brokenness. The pain knocks us over, like a cup on its side. We may feel like all our hope has been drained out of our lives. When the cup of our lives is broken apart it has to have the pieces put back together again.” (The Cup of Life, Joyce Rupp. Published by Ava Maria Press, Indiana, 2007, .” pg.88)

    Do you hear what she is saying here? “All we can do is try to survive through the pain and slowly recover.” Slowly … because coming out of profound pain and grief takes time.

    So – be good to yourself. Take your time. Turn to God. Pray and talk it out with God. Talk to others.

    Those in your life who have your best interests at heart and care about you and your health, are willing to listen.

    Be gentle with yourself. Surround yourself with others who can be gentle with you as well. Don’t be afraid of sharing your lament.

Blessings!

RGK

At "thank goodness," we know how busy you are and how unsettled things can seem at times. 

We invite you to read the meditations and prayers below. 

We hope you find them helpful and thought-provoking.

The Higher Calling of Greatness is within reach

Meditation based on Mark 9:30-37

When I say: I AM THE GREATEST! …. who do you think of? Who, here on earth in the 20th century set himself up like that? It was Muhammed Ali. Those were the boxer’s signature words – along with “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” of course!

     Many people DO consider him the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. He was just stating the obvious – and humility was not a word you associate with this great boxer.

     That was more than a few decades ago. But the quest for greatness among we humans continues. There’s never a shortage of those willing to stand on the world’s stage and seek the title of “the greatest”.

     We just watched the Olympics two months ago … waiting to see if a Canadian would be the greatest. And we saw some people win gold – although most were very humble about it.

     Last weekend, we watched two teenagers battle it out on the tennis court to see who was the greatest female tennis player in the world for right now! And there were tears when one excellent player didn’t win. Coming second just isn’t good enough in some circles.

     In the financial world, we’ve been watching giant corporations merge and swallow each other up for some years now. Each one of them wants to be the greatest - to rise to the top, to pulverize the competition, to earn more money than any other company in their field.

     And then there’s politics. Each candidate and each party wants to win and, it seems, they will say just about anything to come out on top.

     Greatness. It’s highly prized. And our notions of greatness all have to do with the strong overpowering the less strong, the winner getting the glory and the loser being forgotten.

     And then, there’s Jesus.

     Once again this week in our readings of Mark 9 — for the second of three times in scripture — we hear Jesus make his unusual claim to greatness: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

     And what’s the response of the disciples he has just spoke to who are travelling with him to this particular declaration? Well, they start to argue about who among them is the greatest.

     Oh my. How flawed we human beings really are.

     But what about our higher power? What is it that the One who Created us thinks about greatness? Ell, typical of our loving    Jesus Christ, he turns our thinking upside down! It is not necessarily the one who leads that is the greatest – but the one who serves.

     For Jesus, the one who is great is the one who accepts suffering for the benefit of others, not the one who escapes suffering at the expense of others.

     For Jesus, the true measure of greatness is in one’s willingness to serve our Creator – and our fellow humankind.

It’s hard to comprehend, isn’t it? It’s so contrary to the way of the world. These teachings of Jesus about greatness just don’t fit our understanding of how the world works.

     In this week’s reading … when Jesus predicts his suffering, the disciples respond by arguing with each other. They argue NOT about who among them is the most humble and faithful. No, they argue about WHO IS THE GREATEST!

“WHICH OF US IS THE MOST POWERFUL AND IMPORTANT?”

     The disciples just don’t get it. Mark continually reminds us of that. But it’s not simply so that we shake our fingers at the disciples and laugh at how silly they are.

     Mark wants us to take a look in the mirror and do some self-examination. Mark wants us to ask ourselves, “Are we any different from those disciples? Are we any less eager to seek honor and glory than they were? Are we any more enthusiastic about being servants than they were?”

     The great orchestra conductor and composer, the late Leonard Bernstein, was once asked, “What’s the most difficult instrument to play?”

     “Second fiddle,” Bernstein responded. “I can get plenty of first violinists, but I have a hard time getting someone to play second fiddle. Yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”

     Well, few of us want to play second fiddle, either. The desire to fit in with society around us makes us all want to be first ... We’re just like the original twelve disciples. We clamour for positions of honour. We want to be noticed for the good we do. We want power and control. We want the church to operate according to our own ideas of what’s best, whether or not that’s what’s right in the eyes of God. We don’t want to be servants. We want to be the greatest! We want comfortable Christianity,

     We want Christianity without having to think about the cross and sacrifice and what Jesus died for!

It hasn’t changed much, has it? In twenty centuries, our human fallibility hasn’t changed.

     We can’t be too hard on the disciples. They were yet to see all the suffering that Jesus, their friend and leader, was about to undergo.

     But what about those of us here who have heard the whole story. We know about the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We know of his sacrifice for us..

     Jesus shows us what greatness is. Jesus lives as a model of greatness. Jesus is the greatest! He demonstrates his greatness on a cross, by standing with those who are rejected and those who suffer.

     He demonstrates greatness by suffering and dying for the lost and the lowly and the forgotten, and then by rising to new and eternal life!

     This is the one who teaches us about true greatness.

     When he was on the way to Jerusalem with his disciples, Jesus decided to give them an example. He took a little child from the crowd and placed it in the midst of the disciples. Then Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”

     Children of his day had very little status. It was terrifying to be a child. They were powerless. And yet, Jesus cared as much for them as he cared for anybody. Probably more – because he cares more for those who are vulnerable.

     And so, those of us today are told that – in Jesus’ eyes - “true greatness” is demonstrated by advocacy for the children and the other forgotten ones in society. True greatness is expressed through servanthood to all those who suffer.

     Jesus used a child to put things in perspective for the disciples on that road to Jerusalem. That`s a real gift that children have. They can put things in perspective for us.

     True greatness is NOT how much we have, how big we are, how smart we think we are … it is how much we put God first in our lives and how we show loving service to others.

     The Gospel writer, Mark, wants us to see ourselves in Mark 9:30-37, and wants us to examine our lives and decide if we are on paths to true greatness through our service and humility.

     It isn`t easy or convenient to follow the Lord -- to walk with the Lord … but it is the right thing to do.

Amen and amen.

Work is Love                   

made visible!

A sermon for Labour Day Sunday - 2021

Do you listen to Qwerks and Quarks on CBC Radio on Saturday at noon? One week, it ran a story on the prehistoric tools someone found… and the thing about these tools is that they pre-date human beings by over ½ million years. They are estimated to be 3.3 million years old, while homo genus is only 2.6 million years old. So, of course, that means we’re going to have to look at our history and maybe it will change!


   So … who was using those tools? This has huge implications on human history, because it has always been said that what made us human was the knowledge of how to make and use tools … we’re human because of our cognitive abilities … well, apparently we have more in common with apes than we thought! And now, scientists have to re-think the history of anthropology. 

    For 3.3 million years and more, our ancestors of all kinds – both human and pre-human – have worked for the good of themselves and their communities. It makes our work of 60-90 years seem pretty insignificant, doesn’t it? But it shouldn’t.

    On this Labour Day holiday weekend, it’s time to think about how everything we do is work that glorifies God. And if it doesn’t glorify God, then it should!

    

    “Oh … I don’t do anything anymore” … that’s what I hear from retired people. Or people may be sick and in hospital and they’re thinking: “I’m no good anymore … I can’t do anything.”

     Not true! Not according to God.

     "Work," the Persian poet Kahlil Gibran writes, "is love made visible."

     Love made visible… why, yes it is!

    A spirituality of work is based on a heightened sense of the holiness of our entire world. Everything that IS - is holy, and our hands consecrate it to the service of God.

     When we grow lettuce in a small container on an apartment balcony, we participate in creation.

     When we sweep the sidewalk in front of our house, we bring new order to the universe.

     When we repair what has been broken or paint what is old, we make new. We breathe life into something.

     When we compost garbage and recycle cans; when we clean a room and put everything in order; when we care for everything we touch and touch it reverently - we become the creators of a new universe.

     Genesis 2:15 says: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden, to work it and keep it." 

     We were put here to tend and cultivate this world in all the ways that humankind can. We are called to sanctify everything we do. Sanctify means to make holy. We are made holy by God …everything God touches is made holy.

     And so, our God-given spirituality of work puts us in touch with our own creativity.

     Making a salad for supper becomes a work of art.

     Planting a tree becomes our contribution to the health of the world.

     Organizing a good meeting where the common good is put first and people are valued helps preserve the best in human values and enhances humanity.

     Everybody these days wants to know “what do you do?”

      Like a great number of you, I spent time at home when my two sons were small. Remember how we used to feel kind of “less than” when we had to say what we did as “stay-at-home parents”?

     “Oh … I’m just at home with the kids….” When you’re actually there and in it and doing it, it sure doesn’t feel like it’s important … and yet now today, we all realize how important raising children is. I didn’t feel very spiritual washing a cloth diaper out in the toilet bowl!

      (Did that only once or twice before things changed to disposable diapers!)

    The absolute best answer I ever read to the question: “what do you do?” came from the wife of author Tony Campolo. Her name is Peggy.

    This was her answer when she was asked what she did for a living: "I am socializing two Homo sapiens into the dominant values of the Judeo-Christian tradition in order that they might be instruments for the transformation of the social order into the kind of eschatological utopia that God willed from the beginning of creation."

     And then, she would ask: and what do you do?

     Great comeback.

     Good work -- work done with good intentions and good effects, work that builds up the human race rather than reducing it to “nothingness” or low importance -- develops qualities of compassion and character. Our work develops everything around us. T       There is nothing we do that does not affect the world in which we live.

    And because we live in God’s world, we learn to trust that good work will gain good things for the world, even when we don't expect them and we can't see them coming.

For example, I know there are a lot of teachers in this world. How many times have you run across a former student who will tell you that something you said or did made a huge impact on their life? And for you, all those years ago - it was just a few words in passing.

    The same can be true for nurses, for bosses, for the clerk at the hotel … even our work as neighbours. Something that we say or do heals a wound or encourages success or gives hope.

     Even a person in a hospital bed is doing the work of God in ways she or he may never know. A lot of good work in healing and building relationships with others and with ourselves goes on in a hospital room. The glory of God, the compassion, the wisdom, of God is there.

     Not one of us has lived a life in vain. It just doesn’t happen that way.

     The spirituality of our work – whether cleaning out the garage; sitting on the board of a college or a corporation; painting a picture; driving a truck; baking and cleaning - immerses us in human connectivity and worthful-ness on God’s terms.

    Everything we do - everything - has some effect on someone somewhere. Our lives are tied up in others.

     We may not realize it at first. Oh … what’s happening in Afghanistan or Haiti has nothing to do with us over here. Oh yes it does. All people are God’s people.

    Even now, God is helping us find ways to help those in the world who are not as fortunate as we are. When people starve, we starve. When children die, something dies in us and we mourn. When people are killed and injured, as is happening in Afghanistan, we suffer as well.

     God will show us what our work is when others suffer. And those who have ears to listen, will hear, as it says in scripture.

Never underestimate everything you do. It IS your work, and it is God’s work

. Amen.


" What's coming out 

        of you, anyway?"

        A meditation based on Mark 7;1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I have a little story I want to share with you:

   A parent was in church with three Kids, including a six year old daughter. As was the family custom, they sat in the very front row so that the children could see everything.

   During this particular service, the minister was doing a baptism of a tiny infant. The little six year old girl was quite taken by this, observing that the minister was speaking and pouring water over the little one's head.

   With a puzzled look on her face, the little girl turned to her parent and asked, "Why is he brain-washing that little baby?"

   We never know what children are thinking … and so we just go ahead about our activities doing something one way and never thinking about why we do it that way …. It’s just the way things are done. It’s always been like that.

   Today’s Gospel reading from Mark is a puzzling one. Jesus says: “not from the outside is one defiled, but from within.” What does it mean? Is Jesus talking about food going in and coming out? And why so much talk about handwashing and cleanliness and defilement?

   This is about laws and regulations and about purity of heart, mind, and soul. These words are about what makes for cleanliness in the eyes of God – and not the way we traditionally think of it. And as usual, Jesus takes what has been “the norm” for years … and turns it all upside down! Because, that’s what Jesus did!

   This passage is about challenging “the way we always do it.”

   You see, some Pharisees and teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem had gathered around Jesus to listen to him and to watch him. They noticed that some of his disciples were eating their food with hands that were ritually unclean. In other words, they had not washed them in the way the Pharisees said people should, and so the “poohbahs” complained to Jesus about this saying:

   "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"

Scripture tells us that the Pharisees had many rules about such things. Rules about what was the proper way to prepare food, to wash cups and pots and bowls and hands if one was to be regarded as "clean" in the eyes of God.

   It wasn’t the fact that you washed your hands or didn’t… it was more than that … the uppity-ups insisted that it be done in a certain way … AND they said GOD said it should be done that way … in other words, their authority on the subject of handwashing came directly from God … which apparently was a bit of a stretch of the truth. Somewhere, way back, some temple men got together and made up the rules.

   And so, Jesus called them out on that in what seems to be an unduly harsh manner – calling them hypocrites and telling them that they worship God in vain because they follow the traditions of men instead of the laws of God.

   At some points in our religious history, humankind has come along and changed the rules because they didn’t make sense. They aren’t an essential way of expressing our faith, or glorifying God, and some rules – well, they hurt people. Does God really care if we eat fish on Friday? Do we really have to cover our heads to be faithful? Should women really be quiet? Does it matter if we mix different cloth materials together? What about working and doing business on Sundays?

   Some of these older traditions and “rules,” I find perfectly acceptable and could even practice as a way of showing God my love and respect. But that’s become a personal thing … my way as an individual to express my faith. Yet some traditions called for in the Bible – such as men putting olive oil in their hair every day – just don’t make sense as a necessary way to express our holy love.

   And so, getting back to ancient scripture, what was Jesus’ problem with hand washing? For sure, back then as it is today, it was done for health reasons. But historically and socially, there was a problem. As with most things in the Bible, this story isn’t JUST about washing your hands to be clean in the eyes of God. It represents dozens of laws that were more about showy ritual, rather than serving to glorify the Lord.

   This handwashing was one of the purity laws, and so fine … except that in Jesus’ time, it was only the rich and urban people who had constant access to water. It was only the rich and the privileged who could wash their hands and their food all the time.

In other words, they were laws that set up a class system that made some people pure in the eyes of God and others unclean in the eyes of God …. And Jesus knew this certainly isn’t what God wants.

   We are all equal in the eyes of God. And those who are have-nots in any society are not less in the eyes of God.

   The question is: do religious yet human-constructed rules about divorce; gender and sexuality; covering our heads, or not walking more than a mile on the Sabbath (yes … that’s there too); make us less loved by God? Or are they meaningless in our time? Do they serve to restrict and oppress rather than serve to Glorify God and help us be the best we can be?

   We must be very careful to interpret the words of the Bible in a way that comes from our hearts … and it is so easy to lose sight of that. What do we, as Christians, focus on?

    Well - love, and forgiveness, transformation and renewal, justice and mercy, and humility and gratitude.

    Cleanliness and holiness and righteousness are things we have in our hearts. God puts them there. They don’t necessarily come from the outside – but reside within us.

    You see, what Jesus was trying to get people to understand, is that what defiles a person are the unclean things that we allow to go on inside our hearts and minds. And those are thoughts of revenge, hatred, bitterness, and run-away-egos.

What defiles a person is not what we eat, or who we eat with --- rather it is our pride, our refusal to listen to others or forgive others, our sense of superiority. All those things that make us feel bad about ourselves.

    Holiness, purity, cleanliness are gifts from above. They are gifts that we should welcome and pay attention to.

    The gifts from God are always offered freely to us. There is never a time when we can’t accept these gifts and incorporate them fully into our lives, because God’s power is always at work within our lives.

        Thanks be to God!

"Can't Touch 

Me Now"

Putting on the Armour of God

A Meditation based on Ephesians 6:10-20

Who would want to be a celebrity on TV these days? Why would anyone want to be a politician? Why would anybody want to be in the public eye for anything these days?

     It seems like every time anyone opens their mouth to say anything – BANG! They are smacked down by someone with an opposing thought. Or worse, they are called out as someone who is insensitive, prejudice, thoughtless, etc. You know what I’m talking about. In this “cancel culture” we live in, if you happen to say something publicly that someone else doesn’t agree with – you’ll hear about it!

     And so, for most of us ordinary folks in life, we are learning it is best to keep our mouths shut. Stay quiet and out of the way. Just go about our own business. But, really, is that the best way?

     Go back 2000 years ago and you’ll find some guy called Jesus who walked around the countryside saying what he thought about things – like injustice and cruelty; greed and prejudice – and boy! Did he ever hear about it from others! And still, he persisted.

     I can’t even imagine the day-to-day rejection and derision he must have gone through. Can you imagine the hullaballoo over his thoughts and ideas that would have filled the airwaves and social media if there had been such a thing back then? Or, conversely, what if Christ was walking around today preaching and teaching about the thoughts and ideas and ways of the One he follows? Would he be scorned; ignored; or have people say “he’s crazy?” That very well could be the reaction today – just as it was all those millennia ago.

      But here’s the thing: good people in the world today are the hands and feet and heart of the Creator and the embodiment – almost – of Jesus Christ. At least, they try to be as wise and good as the Christ was. But the really hard thing is – where do people fighting the ills of today’s world get their strength?

     The answer is: from the same place Jesus found strength in the face of adversity, trials and challenges. By putting on the armour of God and wearing it whenever they face the onslaught of society’s worldly ways, people find the strength to persist.

In Christ, we find an example of perseverance. Sometimes, it ended in victory and occasionally in temporary defeat – but this rebel with a cause was always cloaked with goodness, with strength, and with wisdom. He wore the impenetrable armour of God.

     Think of the times you may have “armed” your own selves – literally. A firefighter arms themselves with fire-proof clothes, boots and helmet. A policeman is armed with a bullet-proof vest. Medical personnel arm themselves with “scrubs” that will hold up to those situations we don’t want to think about! An indigenous person getting ready for a pow wow arms themselves in ceremonial clothing that will open them up to receiving the spirit. Clergy of al kinds arm themselves with albs and stoles and collars that give them strength to go out and preach the Word. Cleaners arm themselves with clothing and equipment that will protect them from the chemicals they might have to use.

     Some of the clothing is practical, some is ceremonial. But every time we clothe ourselves in literal apparel – even a dress or a suit and tie – we go through a type of ceremony of spiritual preparation to face the world out there. And there is no reason why every one of us can’t put on a kind of metaphorical wrapping of God’s power to face the whatever it is the world is going to throw at us today.

     And the challenge for all of us is to feel that wrapping. To be conscious of it every hour of every day. To walk around the streets of our communities wrapped in God’s love and strength and courage to do the right things.

     Think about how changed you might feel if you thought you were wrapped – literally and metaphorically – in the love of the One who Created you.

     And this isn’t saran wrap people! This is a special wrapping like armour that can be pierced by nothing! Hurtful words just bounce right off it! Because it is just pure love. Nothing can get through it to hurt you.

     Inside that wrapping is the perfection that God created you to be. Inside is the sanctuary that you and God create together.

That’s what the armour of God is. There are no swords or guns or evil tongues that come with along with it as adornments. Just that little thing called love. Not the worldly romantic love that we know so well. But the love we call agape, and philia. You know, that stuff that makes us care for the people we’d rather not be around. The love your enemy kind of stuff.

     Because why not? You are surrounded in God’s armour of love and nothing they can say or do will pierce that armour and make God go away from inside your heart.

     We have the strength, when we feel cloaked in God’s armour of love, to help the homeless; feed the poor; visit the sick and lonely.

     In his letter to the Ephesians, we understand once again, that the world is not made up of “either – or” solutions. We CAN cloak ourselves in God’s armour AND still do battle. But the tools our Creator fashioned for our use are not militaristic or harmful. They are gentle and kind – but strong and powerful.

     Paul tells us of a Holy battle plan that is very effective in a real world where evil and injustice exists.

     Stand firm, Paul tells us. And when any of us stand, we stand up; we stand against; we stand for. With God’s wisdom, we learn what to stand for and what to stand against. We learn how to stand up in society – even though today there are loud voices who will try and shut us down – make us metaphorically sit down from our views and opinions of society’s ills and problems.

     How do we know we’re right when we do put on armour and take a stand? That’s a really hard question to answer. But above all, take a path that harms no one when possible. Take a path that incudes the “and” and not the “either-or.” Take the path that acknowledges the worth and dignity of other people.

     Walk around in God’s clothes and you will find yourself talking to God and asking the questions about what is right and wrong – and what is the in-between. And if you find you long ago shed that armour God gives all of us  – it’s never too late to pick it up again and put it on. It’s never too late to be invincible, and strong, and wise again.

     Now … look beside you. See the armour? Pick it up and put it on.


      Emmanuel!

Wisdom & Enthusiasm

A meditation about enthusiasm, thankfulness & wisdom based on Psalm 111 - for Aug. 11, 2021

Enthusiasm! Don’t you just love that word! And don’t we all love those people who exude enthusiasm. It makes us want to be around them – all the time. Their happiness and joy and energy is contagious!

     Psalm 111 is a song of enthusiasm – of love and gratefulness for the One we call Creator. We’re not sure exactly who wrote these words. We just know that they were immersed in a sense of personal thankfulness. The writer was one happy person at the time. We should all have pen in hand during our wildly happy times! What great and lovely prose or poetry we would write!

     It is very possible that on days that aren’t going too well, we may forget those “big picture” things we should be eternally grateful for. For example, we in Canada have a quality of life that is in the top 14% of the entire world population. 

     The vast majority of us will have a roof over our heads tonight; a good meal or two in our stomachs tomorrow; and we just have to turn on a tap to get fresh water! My mind can’t even fathom how many others in this world don’t have the basics like that.

     At this very moment as I write this, Haiti is dealing with yet another major earthquake, and thousands of people in Afghanistan are living in mortal danger from the advancing Taliban. In the shadow of things like this, most of our own problems seem very small.

     And yet … no matter how much we have or have not in this society and in these times … we usually want more. We don’t know why … we just know that we keep striving for more. We want larger houses; more cars; and lots of shoes. We want more entertainment, more leisure - just more “things”. We want more! Somehow, we think we will be happier with more.

     We want to fill up our bodies, our stomachs, our houses, our lives with “stuff”—and think we will be satisfied.

     We yearn for things. So ... when is enough – enough?

     You know what ALWAYS gets to me? Dairy Queen commercials. … every time one of those commercials comes on for the latest double brownie hot sauce whatever … I get a craving for it. It’s the chocolate Hot Sauce that gets me every time.

     We’ve all craved something ….and you know … when I’m eating a Peanut Buster Parfait and feeding the ice cream to the dog in the back seat so that I can get to the chocolate hot sauce in the middle and the bottom …. I’m lovin’ every quick moment of it! (Don’t worry – the dog has his own spoon!)

     But an hour after I’m finished, all satisfaction is gone. It never stays … and so the next time I see that commercial on television, I’ve got Dairy Queen in my head for hours and hours….. And so, that’s a craving that isn’t ever going to be truly satisfied…

     Whatever satisfaction there is, it is fleeting.…Have you ever had that experience? Like Chinese Food…isn’t that what they say? You eat it and you’re hungry an hour later? But boy – it was so good! We always want a little more!

     Psalm 111 was written to express the writer’s gratitude and joy in their relationship with their Creator.

     We always talk about those “six degrees of separation” in our lives with others – but with God, we are directly and intimately and intricately connected in relationship. The writer knows this, and is so grateful for it.

     The writer isn’t looking for anything “more” from God than is already provided.

     The One who loves us is generous towards us. They are gracious and compassionate towards us; remembers their promises to us; they are powerful in working for us; and are loyal to us. We are told by the author of Psalm 111 that the Lord provides food to those who fear them.

     And that word, fear, had a different meaning in Biblical times than we use it today. It meant to have reverence for, admire and respect the Lord. Those who had fear of God respected and submitted to the Creator. They showed it by living well – as God would want us to do – for the good of others around us.

     And that hunger the writer speaks about? It is the hunger not only of body, but of spirit, and mind and soul.

For after all, our real hunger is not for that which fills our stomachs and clutters up our lives- not to mention heart arteries! Our real hunger is for food which satisfies the spirit.

     I want more too.

     I want MORE God in my life! More Jesus! More good works! More justice! More kindness! More compassion for others.

That is the attainable “more” for all of us in life. The very same God that the writer of Psalm 111 is praising, can do that for me and with me. For you, and with you.

     How much Jesus do you have in your heart? That’s an expression I heard at a church workshop gathering.

     We were told that our generosity to church and to others is a clear indication of how much Jesus we have in our heart. And so, now … every day, I find myself asking myself about how much Jesus I have in my heart today.

      I want to feel the same enthusiasm for my Creator that the person who wrote that Psalm had in their heart thousands of years ago. I want my reverence and love of God to be the beginning and the continuation of all my wisdom in everything I do in life.

     I believe that my lasting satisfaction and peace will come only from the relationship that I develop over time with God.

It comes with how much Jesus I have in my heart.

     Yes – I yearn to have more. But it is the "more” that is not outside me and paid for by money. It is the “more” that comes from a loving relationship with the One who thought me up and created me. The One who has followed me all the days of my life and wants only good things for me. The One who is telling me to get out of my own way so that true blessings will enter my life!


Have a great week. And never forget to listen for the still, small whisper of our Creator in your head. And always seek the wisdom of God first.

Amen.


A Prayer for Leaving

Go now, knowing that God’s love provides us with riches that are beyond anything we can imagine.

Go now, knowing that Christ’s wisdom and guidance lead us to treasures we have yet to discover;

And go now, knowing that the Holy Spirit uses us to share God’s abundance in this world with all others.

The Lord be with you, now and forevermore. Amen.

The Thunk 

          & the Gap

A meditation on Psalm 51

Note to Readers: The premise of the “thunk” and the “gap” appeared in a 2009 sermon by Methodist Minister, Rev. Mark Sargent on the Website “Day 1.” The beginning of Rev. Sargent’s sermon entitled “The Thunk, the Gap, and the Six A’s” is as follows. We print it to give all credit to Rev. Sargent and to put the use of his thought into context in our weekly message that follows:


“Back in the days of my seminary education, I had a professor named Jim Hopewell, who introduced us to the phenomenon he called the "Thunk, which is what he said happens whenever someone in everyday life discovers that you're a priest or a pastor. Dr. Hopewell told the story of a time when he was traveling on a plane, without his clergy collar, carrying on a perfectly normal conversation with the guy seated next to him. And, as is often the case in such conversations, the topic pretty soon turned to what each guy did for a living.

"I'm a priest," Dr. Hopewell confessed. And that's when it happened. "The Thunk." The palpable, unmistakable, inevitable change in the relational dynamic when someone discovers that you wear the cloth. Your own pastor or priest can tell you about her or his own experiences with the Thunk.

Well, it's been a long time since I took that class in 1982. And, since then, a lot has changed. One of the things that's changed is that now, any Christian, not just ordained ones, can experience the Thunk.”

Just imagine you’re a member of the clergy today. You’re travelling on a bus; you’re at a party with new neighbours; you’re at a community meeting … you’re just trying to fit in and enjoy the conversation around you, when – as inevitably will happen – you’re asked “so, what do you do?” Human beings are always trying to make connections. We want to know what the person beside us does so that we can find links and comparisons and keep the conversation going.

     What do you do? You smile and say: “I’m a Minister.”

     There’s always, ALWAYS a pause. A theology professor I know refers to that pause as “The Thunk.” That’s where you not only hear the pause, but you can see it in people’s faces. The first thing that happens is that the smile fades from their face – which goes kind of blank – and their eyes kind of roll upwards and you just know they’re going over the last few minutes of their conversation, as they check to see if they said a swear word or something else inappropriate. And then, there’s the silent moment.

     “There it is”, I’ll say in my mind… “there’s the ‘Thunk’.” And then the whole dynamic of the conversation changes as people begin to highly – highly – censor their thoughts and words. And if possible, make an excuse to leave the room.

If you want to go through your own experience of “Thunk,” and some of you may already have – just announce to someone at a gathering that you’re a church-goer… other church-goers are usually okay and tell you where they go to worship – but the unchurched will give you the “Thunk.” And then find an excuse to slowly move away.

     The problem with all of us is that we form assumptions about people according to what they do … not who they are.

Say you vote Conservative, and some people will think you’re a conservative guy in a stuffy suit … you vote Liberal, and people think you threw a party when marijuana was legalized … NDP? … you’re a radical who wears shorts and sandals in the winter … vote Green, and you’ll always be thought of as a tree-hugger. And nothing is wrong with any of that! It’s not accurate anyway. Right?

     Say you’re a Christian … and today, people’s minds go to the sensationalized type of Evangelical Christian who are getting all the press for wild, wild thoughts and deeds that often go against what most tolerant and inclusive Christians stand for. As a result, the unchurched can only come to the conclusion that the Christian they run into is a judgmental, bigoted, self-righteous person who will judge others as sinners.

     Who wants to hang around with that? No wonder we can’t encourage and welcome folks into our churches. They’re too emotionally healthy!

     So, every time we get the Thunk, don’t you just want to explain to people everything that we’re not?

     We are not – I hope and pray - judgmental, simplistic, narrow-minded, strait-laced, condemning and rejecting people. We – for the most part I hope – do not believe that God is a man sitting on a throne in the sky sending lightning bolts one way and angels the other whenever “HE” feels like it.

     That’s the stereotype people outside these walls think we are.

     We know that a different Christianity exists. We know that there are followers of Jesus who are welcoming, tolerant of others and accepting. We know that there are followers of Jesus who are spiritually mature, intellectually honest and psychologically savvy. We know that there are followers of Jesus who guard against unfair stereotypes and judgments and who work to eliminate prejudice in their own minds and wherever else they see it.

     The majority of practicing Christians are awfully nice people.

     A few years ago, there was a poll taken in the States that showed an increasing number of people are putting “None” in the box that asks for your religious affiliation. And that’s ‘none’ as in no religious affiliation. And we now know, that it’s happening here in Canada as well.

     Do you blame them? Who wants to be part of a religion with people in it who do such terrible things as picket funerals; handle snakes during worship because they are tempting God to save them; and – as honestly happened recently in the southern states – hand out guns as a gift to a speaker at the church service?

       And of course, yes – it’s 2021, and there are still denominations who prohibit women from speaking from the pulpit and becoming ordained.

     Does that sound like it will appeal to many people who pass by a church building? Would knowledge like that entice them to stick their heads inside the doors to say “hi” and ask if they can join us? I don’t think so – and neither do you.

     You - yes YOU - and your actions outside your church are what educates other folks about what and who a Christian is.

     So … here we have Psalm 51 this week … and we can choose to focus on the parts of it about transgressions and sins – which is only part of the psalm, or we can choose to have our ears opened to the parts that call on God to let us hear the sounds of joy and gladness and especially, the prayer to put a new heart in us – each one of us.

     A lot of people both outside and INSIDE the church don’t realize that Christians have all different kinds of thoughts and ways of explaining the Word. We are not all the same – I think in any church, we are a people who view our faith as a religion of love and acceptance and mercy and grace. We are people with spirits and brains and souls and hearts that are fully engaged in the ways of Jesus Christ. Christ has chosen us – and we, intelligent, thinking, compassionate people have chosen Christ.

And it sure isn’t easy in today’s world. We’re always running up against the Thunk … and there’s something else called The Gap. The Thunk and the Gap.

     The Thunk has been created by the Gap.

     There is a gap between Christianity and the world. The Gap has been growing because … well there’s a whole lot of reasons. Let me throw out a couple … as I’ve been saying here today, people misunderstand who we are – and as long as we do all our business and worship and good deeds inside walls and behind doors – they will never know who we are or what we do – except for what they see on TV every time a church acts up and misbehaves.

     And a second reason there’s a growing Gap is because of something psychologists call “religious wounding.” Churches hurt people. And they don’t stop coming because of the hurt – they more than likely stop coming because no one acts like they care.

     For example, when a faithful person struggles with poverty and gets a message in church that we only care about what they put on the offering plate, then a wound is inflicted. Conversely, when people hear that people of wealth are the root of all our problems, a wound is inflicted on those with wealth.

     When a person struggling with gender identity or sexual orientation sits in church and hears that straight is right and gay is wrong, a wound is inflicted.

     When a person living in an abusive marriage sits in church and hears that divorce is wrong, a wound is inflicted.

All these things and much more can be interpreted as somebody’s truth from the Bible. More often than not, they’re not God’s truths. We need to take the time to interpret the wise words inspired by God that have been written.

     As long as people feel judged and shamed and turned against by religion; by clergy; by Christian people – they will never join us in our spiritual journey.

     They think we have nothing to offer them but pain.

     And we know that isn’t true. It’s all part of the Gap that has been created by misunderstanding of who we are as Christians and apathy over other people’s hurts.

     I know none of you want that to be the message our churches send out in the world today. In fact, the very opposite is true. The body of our churches should be a place of safety and healing.

     And if yours isn’t – you’ve got a problem. And God has a problem.

     And so, my prayer this week is from Psalm 51 which begins with:


1 Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love


     The Psalm then encourages all of us to admit that none of us are perfect people and we have committed transgressions – and because we have done so, we focus on Verses 10 - 12:


10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.


      So yes, Lord, create in me a pure heart and restore me, Lord, to the joy of your salvation. That is my prayer to the Creator who loves us, accepts us, forgives us, and wishes good things for us – at all times.

     God wants us to find our own ways to overcome the Thunk and the Gap that separates us from others and from our faith.

     And it’s far more than a good beginning when our hearts are re-created; when our minds are re-opened; when our long-held thoughts are reversed when and if needed.

     So yes - put in us a new heart, Lord. Put in us a new heart.

 

      Amen and Amen.

Hey! Take a Breath, Will Ya!

Meditation based on Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

In this passage from Mark for this week, we hear that Jesus has been rejected by his own people, he has endured hearing the terrible news of the beheading of John the Baptist and nobody will leave him alone! It makes me tired just to think about it!

   The reading starts out with the apostles telling Jesus about their missionary work, and they all had been working hard and so he says to them: “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For they didn’t even have the time to eat.

But as they were going, many people recognized them and followed them. And some figured out where he was going and so hurried ahead and were waiting for him on the other shore. Everybody wanted something from Jesus … and he looked at them and thought with compassion that they were like sheep without a shepherd. They needed him. And so, we are told, he stayed and taught them many things.

    And then, the Lectionary reading has us skip over the feeding of the five thousand – bcz that’s for another day – and moves us to a place where once again Jesus gets out of a boat looking for rest, but again there are hordes of people waiting for him … and this time, many want cures for illnesses. And so, he walks among them and gives them comfort and healing.

    How about you? Do you ever want to tell the rest of the world to just go away? Just go away for a minute and let me be …leave me alone …. let me rest?

    Well, this particular passage reminds me of a saying I heard once and it fits really well. Is Jesus saying: Don’t just DO something: Sit there!

    We know that the work of Christ seems never-ending. To follow Christ is to be a “do-er.” And it is a rewarding place to be. But we need to rest and re-group at times, and that’s okay.

    Have you picked up on the theme of sheep and shepherds this week? A shepherd is a leader. Some people don’t like to be referred to as sheep. So, let me try and soften this a bit for you … remember that sheep don’t necessarily follow a shepherd … in fact, I am told that often the shepherd walks behind … just making sure that the sheep are heading in the right direction … and of course, carrying that staff in order to protect the sheep from enemies … which in those days would have been predatory animals.

    Sheep were always on the move – they had to be … for food and protection, they had to keep moving.

    So is the Christian faith. It always has to move forward and change – or it will die. And often, it sounds and actually might be – exhausting.

    Let’s put it into terms that relate to our lives today… does being Christian mean giving everything up that gives us joy and security? Does it mean working every single church supper? Never saying “No” to anyone who asks us to sit on a committee? Always “being there” for other people who need something done ….?

    Is that what Jesus did?

    No wonder we don’t have people filling our churches … we have burnt them out! Too many of us put expectations on ourselves and others that don’t allow us to recharge our batteries and our spirits and souls.

    Author Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about a woman she had a discussion with … and this person had stopped going to church. Taylor says church just sounds like work these days … more responsibility in a world where we have allowed ourselves to become overburdened with the things that don’t really count in the large scheme of things. We have allowed ourselves to become so over-worked that we are staggering under loads that are already too heavy. And along come we Christians asking these people to join our church and spread the Gospel and be the face of Christ in the world …. Be the face of Hope in this world … and this overburdened woman looked at Barbara Brown Taylor and she said: “Barbara, I’m sorry, but I don’t WANT to be that important!”

     We are often like that woman. We just can’t take any more, can we? We hear the invitation to Minister to others and it scares us! We’re too tired to cook that meal for the homeless; we don’t have the time to take that person to the hospital appointment; we can’t find the time to teach Sunday School or let alone take the neighbour’s kid to soccer practice.

     What we hear in the invitation to follow Christ is just an invitation to do “More” To be even more busy; to be more generous; to be more loving; to be more faithful … and we just want to run away and hide.

    What we’re NOT hearing is the still, small voice of God. We’re NOT hearing a voice from the One who loves us asking us to be who we are right now. To be Ministers of the Word in the things we are doing right now. And to do it with the full knowledge and understanding that we are God’s people in this world.

    Did Jesus ever say “No!”? You bet he did! He said No to the sellers in the Temple … and remember he said no to Mary and Martha who asked him to hurry up and change his plans and come to the house because Lazarus was sick. He told them no …. That he would be there in two days … not NOW.

    He even told his own Mother that No, he wouldn’t come out of the house to see her one day when he was visiting and working with others.

    Jesus understood perfectly who he was and what his Mission on earth was at that time. He went on retreats. He sat by wells and under trees in the heat of the day. He knew he was human and needed to rest if he was to renew his strength – both physically and spiritually.

    Whatever we are doing at any time is done within a structure of our faith. We might not know at the time it has anything to do with our faith … but if we truly understand ourselves to be children of God, then we know that everything we do glorifies the Lord.

    But we can’t glorify God to the fullest when we are tired, bitter, resentful, inflexible, and over-worked. And often, we have allowed ourselves to get that way.

    Oh, we’re busy all right … no doubt about that…. But how much of that busyness is being done out of compassion and thoughtfulness for other people? How much of it is being done with joy?

    How much of it is being done after we have regenerated our batteries with even two minutes of morning reflection?

    Almost every adult gets to a point in life where we know that if we don’t take care of ourselves, then we can’t effectively take care of anybody else….

    Jesus knew that. That’s why he told his disciples to come away with him and rest.

    There is an incredible importance to those “in-between times” of our lives. You know, those quiet times that we take to reflect on things such as thankfulness; and hope; and compassion. Jesus wants us to seek out those quiet places to be by ourselves and rest and think – think about God.

    Whether inside our minds and hearts or out in open spaces … Jesus tells us that there is rest for the weary and it is with God.

    Jesus teaches us many things about life. Jesus teaches us about the way of love. Jesus teaches us about hope. But Jesus also teaches us some other very basic simple things such as the need for a quiet place, all by ourselves, in order to rest and renew ourselves spiritually.

    So often, it is only our obsession with - and maybe addiction to - busy-ness that prevents us from falling peacefully into the arms of a waiting God for a minute of rest and reflection.

    And so many of us feel guilty about doing this. We don’t know how to take care of ourselves because we’re so good at taking care of others!

    But today, in our readings, Jesus tells us to let Christ be the shepherd and lead the way. Give all the hard stuff over to God and let us take a moment to reflect on how good a simple life can be for ourselves and for those we care about.

    Good shepherds are good leaders in our lives. Good shepherds are those people in our lives who know that we need times and spaces for rest. And we should be good leaders by recognizing that others need time too. Oher people have times when they can’t say “yes” to everything as well.

    Jesus, your Good Shepherd and mine, is leading us today, in this moment, to quiet places for rest. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep whom Jesus cares for, feeds, waters, protects, and leads on the wise journeys of life.

    We can always be compassionate people. We have to learn to recognize that our feelings are always compassionate, but at times, our actions have to wait until we are strong enough to really help in the right way.

    It is up to us to find that balance in life that means we always have our minds on God and prayer and the renewal such things bring. And we have to find ways to pair those things with actions in our lives that mean we go about our days doing the work of God.

    Have a great week! And stop to smell the flowers!

     AMEN 



"Always Blessed through God's Grace"


Ephesians 1:3-14

There are a few scripture stories in the Bible that are real downers! And one of these is certainly this week’s Gospel passage about the death of John the Baptist. It appears as though a lot of people who followed Christ during his time on earth met some rather gruesome fates.

    John, an itinerant preacher who wandered through the countryside urging people to prepare for the beginning of the formal ministry of Jesus Christ, rebuked King Herod after he divorced his wife and married Herodias. The problem was, she was also a divorced person who had been married to his brother! She had a daughter who was so bewitching when she danced, that her new step-daddy/uncle told her he would give her anything she asked for! The girl, who is sometimes named as Salome, ran to her Mom and asked what she should request. Herodias, upset by John the Baptist’s criticisms of her new union, told her daughter to ask that the head of John be presented to her on top of a platter.

     And so, it was done.

    One of the most important things we are to learn from these tragic stories is that Jesus Christ and his followers all down through time have known tragedy, betrayal, violence, fear, and danger. There is nothing you can go through in life that the One who Created you does not understand.

    People were hurting each other thousands of years ago for reasons that go against the Word and Will of God - and people do the same today. Yet, just know and be comforted by the fact that in the grand scheme of things, chaos does not reign in God’s world.

    Humankind only had to wait until Paul started his Ministry and his letters and teachings, that we were reminded that we are actually living under the reign of the Glory of God.

    Paul told the Ephesians right at the beginning of his letter to them that: “Long before God made the earth’s foundations, the Creator had all life in mind and we were going to be the Lord’s focus.”

    And so, we never forget the foundational work done by John the Baptist in preparing the Way for Jesus Christ to do his Ministry. But we mourn that a servant of God was murdered in such a horrible way and for such horrible reasons – greed; lust; revenge; shame; jealousy; and just plain evil. Still, we are encouraged not to focus on our sense of unfairness about it all, but to move on and think of the goodness and the blessings of being adopted into God’s family. We shouldn’t remain imprisoned by the chaos that sometimes invades our world. We shouldn’t remain stuck in our anxieties.

    And that reminds me of the bulletin blooper:

    “Don't let worry kill you. Let the Church help.”

    Paul would certainly have experienced worry in his time -  church worry. He had the Romans to worry about; he had the Corinthians; he had the Philippians … each culture with its own eccentricities and things to learn about Jesus Christ … he had so much evangelizing and teaching to do and so little time to do it!

    But the Ephesians … well, they were pretty good. There’s always the good child in every family – the easy one … and the Ephesians were it. And so, he could take the time in his letter to wax eloquent about God and God’s glory in his opening words of his letter to them.

    “How blessed is God!” he begins and then tells them why it is we who are blessed through God. Paul lists because we are made free from sin; we are forgiven; we know who we are and to whom we belong; we have a purpose, and God wants us to have a glorious life!

    How blessed we are!

    If it were all up to God – everything would be wonderful for us… but unfortunately, that freedom we have been given, comes with a price. We have the freedom to mess up – and because we are human, we do. You – not one of you – is alone in messing up sometimes.

    God knows you’re not perfect. And your Creator loves you anyway! So go a little easier on yourselves!

    In his letter, Paul tells the Ephesians that God’s gift of grace is a lavish inheritance. Grace is something we didn’t earn, but which is gifted to us. How often we settle for less than the Holy and sacred gifts even when God is crying out to us – take my grace – freely given to you for eternity!

    How often we settle for the tired old habits of religion—those very same things that keep younger generations away from our buildings …. legalism and dogmatism, instead of doing the work of Jesus Christ here on earth; instead of losing ourselves in the passion and amazement and wonder of the mystery of adoption by God!

    Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is to a people who are secure in who they are… and it’s a new-found security of identity as children of God – because up until this early Christianity, they were mostly Gentiles who were treated as outsiders to the established Jewish society.

     But with the life of Christ on earth – with Paul continuing to teach and do Christ’s work after he was physically gone – the Ephesians came to understand that they too, were God’s people and included in God’s creation, right along with all the other peoples of their known world.

    And that, is a gift of identity and belonging and dignity. None of which are insignificant gifts.

    God’s grace was extended to include all nations. And this was different in its time.

    In several of his letters to different tribes and cultures, Paul wrote something similar to what I now quote from

Galatians 3:28

    “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    We are all One in Christ. All living creatures are included in God’s grace.

    To God, we are all One …. Period. Full Stop. For God has chosen us to live on earth. And we didn’t have to do anything to have the Great Creator breathe life into us in the first place! What a gift!

    We are chosen. We are blessed. Walk with your head held high, for you are precious children of God. You are forgiven and you are loved.

    Thanks be to God. Amen.

Never a "Fail" in God's Eyes

Meditation based on Mark 6:1-13

Have you ever failed at anything? I can tell by the looks on your faces … those little smiles … that you all have. Me too. It happens all the time, doesn’t it? And what do we do? Do we just stay inside our homes and never go out into the world to fail again? No! We get up every morning and face the day and we try again….That’s the way we are made. That’s what we’re supposed to do – everything in nature begins anew!

   Did you ever think that as large as our failures loom in our own minds, they pale in comparison to some Biblical ones! For example, many Israelites – including Moses – never lived long enough to see the promised land; King David – exalted in his time, failed several times in a big way … even being a murderer; John the Baptist had his head lopped off; and Paul was imprisoned and killed for his Ministry;

   Can you imagine the hullabaloo if they had all lived in these times of social media and instant shaming?

   At least my failures won’t be talked about 2000 years from now!

    And, of course, failures of other times and other places in the world might not be considered failures now – and vice-versa.

And as we go through life – every one of us – we begin to understand that we learn something from those times we don’t succeed in what our original goal was.

   This week’s scripture reading from Mark is actually two stories … and the first chronicles the beginning of the failure of Jesus’ Ministry on earth in his own time. He shows up in his own hometown and his authority is questioned. The people say: who is this guy? With what authority is he doing and saying these things?

   “He’s just a carpenter’s son,” they were saying. “Who does he think he is?”

    And so, Jesus was having a hard time with his preaching and teaching … in fact, in some people’s opinion, he was failing at it. The people were not willing to hear what he had to say.

   We all know the story of the birth of Jesus – and the death of Jesus. And we forget that there was a whole lot of living going on in those between years. But we have to assume that because Jesus was human ( as well as divine), that he knew what rejection is. What disappointment is. What failure is. As we go through our own lives, if there is one thing we must be assured of, it is that there is nothing – NOTHING – that we suffer or endure, that Jesus doesn’t know about or experienced himself. It is so true that we don’t go through our trials or tribulations or challenges alone – Jesus is there – right along with us.

   This scripture passage from Mark tells us that the townspeople were all hung up on WHO Jesus WAS at his beginning on earth! NOT who he was now for them … they were refusing to see beyond the little baby boy with humble beginnings. They could not accept Jesus in the here and now for them … and it was a terrible stumbling block for them in their spiritual journey.       And it must have been terrible rejection and a feeling of frustration and failure for Christ.

    How many of us put up those barriers of the past that keep us from feeling the fullness of God in our lives today?

We think we can’t forgive ourselves or others and so we just maintain the status quo … all the while stuck in a rut and never moving on to feeling better and living better.

   Well, that’s where the people of Nazareth were those days when Jesus came to town. They weren’t open to Jesus and his teachings about the love of God.

   But he was there with a mission … and he wasn’t alone. He had his disciples with him … and he had God …

And their authority came from God. And bcz WE are children of God … our authority to spread the Good News … comes from God. WE have power … and it comes from God. We have the power to tell others who are thrashing about in life about the love of God for them. They are never alone.

   Now, there is a second story in this Gospel reading from Mark. Jesus knew that he couldn’t do the work on earth alone. And so, he told the disciples to go out in pairs into the community and Minister to the townsfolk. But he warned them to expect rejection! And so he counselled them to “shake the dust off their feet” if they came to a house that wouldn’t welcome them in.

   Their task was to let people know about Jesus Christ and his love. To let them know that Christ wants good things for us. He supports us, encourages us, and comforts us when we need it.

   And once that task is done, it is up to the hearers of the Word to accept it and act on it. And Jesus lets the disciples know that they might not always be welcomed in people’s homes. And when that happens – shake off the dust that is accumulating on your feet while you stay there – and move on.

    Now this can be confusing for us … is he telling them to give up? Is he telling them not to waste their time? Some people think so … but what about this way of looking at it: Haven’t they, by knocking at a door and speaking even briefly to someone … planted the seeds needed for faith to grow? And sure! They might fail… but they tried … and some of that seed may have dropped and taken root by the wayside. We can always hope!

    It’s never a waste of time to do the work of Christ at any time … every single act of kindness by word or deed is the work of Christ. You do it … and you move on … shake the dust off your feet because there is so much more work for people of God to do in this world.

    Just sharing God’s Word is doing the work of our Creator on earth. It makes God smile. And God isn’t as concerned about failure as we are.

   Always remember the story of Thomas Edison! He invented the light bulb, and 1,092 other inventions! He famously said that no one had more failures in life than he did. And yet, do we remember him as a failure? No!

    When something didn’t pan out, his attitude was: “Well, now we know one more thing that doesn’t work. We’re that much closer to finding something that will!”

    Think about this: Do we say that God failed because Jesus was crucified? No… that is part of a much bigger picture that only God understood at the time. What the crucifixion did was empower Jesus and empower us. We have been given the power to change ourselves and the lives of others. And we do that through love … inspired and guided by God.

    The scripture readings this week invite us to live in the fullness of God's powerful and loving presence – even though we may face rejection at the time. Just as Jesus prepared the disciples and sent them out to carry his teaching and ministry to neighbouring villages, we too are called and "sent with power" by God's Spirit.

    We will face rejection in life. My hope for you is that it doesn’t happen all the time! Remember that in any work that is kind and good, we are not alone. And we are never rejected by our Creator in our actions that try to make things better for other people.

   Go forth my friends, today and tomorrow and in all the days to come, empowered by a love and strength that ONLY God can provide.

    Glory be to God … AMEN.

Our Collective Sins - Residential Schools

Meditation based on Psalm 130 and Mark 5:21-43

Psalm 130


1   From the depths of disaster I appeal to You, O Eternal           One:

2    Lord, hear my cry!

      Attune Your ears to my humble prayer!

3    If You, Eternal One, recorded each offense,

      Lord, who on earth could stand innocent?

4    But with You forgiveness exists;

      that’s why true respect of You might flow.

5    So I wait for the Eternal—my soul awaits rescue—

      and I put my hope in His transforming word.

6    My soul waits for the Lord to break into the world

      more than night watchmen expect the break of day,

      even more than night watchmen expect the break of day.

7    O Israel, ground your hope in the Eternal.

      For in the Eternal lives the most loyal love,

      and with Him comes the most abundant redemption.

8    He will ransom Israel

      from all the sinful acts that stole you away.

I am in deep despair. This week in Canada, we are collectively in deep despair with the news of so many little ones lying for decades in unmarked graves. These were children taken from their families and sent to residential or day schools run by Christian churches. These were precious children of our Indigenous brothers and sisters who were taken from the arms of crying parents, stolen, terrorized, and abused, who are now found. And their little bodies will tell stories from their graves.

     And so, in this fifth week of Pentecost, we turn to Psalm 130 and feel the pain of the one who wrote it when he rages: “Out of the depths, I cry out to you, O Lord. Hear my cry for help!”

     As with the Psalm writer, we admit we have committed sins and we pray to God for forgiveness. And now, we watch and we wait for God to speak to us and lead us in any way to reconcile the wrongs that have been done in the name of our faith.       We await our rescue from God, because even though we may not have physically been among those who harmed the children, we have heard the stories told by families and survivors, and we did not pay attention. And that is the sin of this generation.

    It would be wonderful if we could live lives that God desires for us. If only we could live a life that was filled with nothing but happiness and compassion and meaning. But we are only human after all. And try as we might, we never quite get it right.

     We think about the Gospel lesson for this week from Mark 5:21-43. In it, we hear stories of healing. We are told the stories about how Jesus raised a girl from the dead and healed a bleeding woman. These are just like the stories we see in the movies – where they all have a happy ending.

     But for this real-life Canadian story, there is no happy ending and there never will be. There will be no girl brought back to life. There will be no suffering woman healed. Nothing can make up for this tragic loss of generations of children – all perpetrated by people of Christian faith.

     And so, now is not the time to expect some quick succession from tragedy to forgiveness and healing. That will take more time than we will be alive to see. And it will come only through the Grace of the Creator and of the Indigenous community. And the reality is – that time may never come. And so be it.

     Now is the time for prayer. Prayers for the children who went to school and never came home. May their souls rest in peace now.

     Prayers for their families. May they find comfort in knowing that their little ones will be named and come home.

     Prayers for those who are tasked with finding the little bodies. May they find the strength to keep moving on in their work.

     And prayers for all those who will make decisions about how Canada and the churches involved will make reparations to those who have been so tragically harmed.

     And we need to pray for ourselves. Pray that as we go forward, we will listen respectfully to members of the Indigenous community when they speak of their history in this country. And we will believe them when it is hard for us to hear.

     Let us pray now:

     Loving Creator. You fashioned each one of us in wonderful ways and intended that we all be set gently in our mother’s womb. You intended that we grow and be born into a loving world. But, we realize that not everyone was raised in a home filled with gentleness and love.

     Our hearts are broken when we hear of any child who suffers. And these days, we are horrified to find out that so many children suffered because of the policies of the Residential School system. So many of those precious souls did not live long on this earth. If there is any comfort, it is that every child who does not reach adulthood is safe in your loving arms.

     We pray for the survivors – those who made it home, but not before spending years being abused both physically and emotionally.

     Creator, may your comfort and peace and strength descend upon all those affected by these events of the past, and events of today.

     May such things never happen again.

     We ask all this in your name.   AMEN.

Hope grows from the smallest of seeds

(A meditation om Mark 4:26-34)


Right: actual sunflowers from High River, Alberta growing in 2014

When was the last time you saw something that inspired a great big “WOW!” to come out of your mouth? Has it been a while?

I think, sometimes, that we are losing our sense of wonder and awe. It’s almost as if we need to have bigger, splashier, shinier, louder – more of everything to amaze us! Isn’t that true about our lives today?

   We need to have greater and greater things to give us that sense of awe. I mean, just think about it. This past year, what made you feel awe-struck? A fair bet would be it was when humankind sent a space craft to Mars – and then, we received pictures from Mars sent all the way back to earth! And the highpoint was when a little helicopter actually flew around up there! How amazing is that?

   It got our attention. What a marvel of science and technology that is! But – is that what it takes for us to feel wonder and awe? Because if that’s it – what in the world are we going to do to top that next?

   Please comfort me by reminding me of the simpler things we all take for granted that are true miracles in life! Don’t ever let me become so blasé by the so-called “great things” that I fail to appreciate the smell of rain or the colour and form of the flower in my garden.

   Remember those times in our own lives when we felt awe during a walk in the woods and a deer crossed our path? Or the way our hearts swell when we see babies of all kinds! Whether puppies or kittens or ducklings or turtles or human babies – our hearts feel like they are physically melting!

   Take a minute in the midst of all the bustle and noise around us in this world in 2021, to think of those miracles that have come down through all the ages … take a minute to get back to the simple things that are really so marvellously complicated and intricate in their very being.

   Do we truly understand how wonderful and amazing life and creation is around us?

   Place a mustard seed from your kitchen cabinet in your hand - or any kind of seed. For all intents and purposes, they will look dry and dead. Yet, with the wisdom passed down from the beginning of life on earth, we know that even those little, tiny seeds have the ability and the drive to grow into large, green, lush, life-giving vegetation of all kinds. How wonderful!

I can’t help thinking about that Parable about the seeds and the little, tiny mustard seed that Mark writes about in Chapter 4 of his Gospel.

   As you know, Jesus spoke in parables. I wonder how frustrated all of us today would be if we had a friend and teacher who spoke to us in Parables all the time!

    “Get to the point, will ya buddy!” we would be screaming at them! We have become a people who are used to having our information served to us like pablum on a spoon! But Jesus – well – he prefers us to meditate and discern about the important things in life. He knows we are perfectly capable of thinking for ourselves and coming up with good answers.

   But here we are reading Mark 4, given this Parable by Jesus in which he says beginning in verse 26: “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27 and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

   The planter of the seed is in wonder and awe of the seed growing “he does not know how.” Wonder of wonders! He scatters seed on the ground and it sprouts – he does not know how. And I can just hear the marvel in the gardener’s voice as he tells others about this miracle that the earth produces on its own! And he is grateful as he harvests the fruit of his labours and the work of the earth. And somehow, he knows by nature that God makes this happen.

   And the second Parable he tells is the one about the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, “which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

   And we are left to marvel at the graciousness of such a small seed – and they are very small – growing into such a great shrub that it provides shelter and a home for the beloved birds of the air.

   This is a passage written by Mark to encourage us to marvel at what a blessing the miracle of life is. It is written to assure us that there is order in life even in the midst of chaos around us. It is written to remind us time and time again, that small things count. That even the smallest of hopeful things is incredibly important.

   And most importantly, Mark wrote this passage to tell us, and prove to us, that hope grows – even when we think it is dead.

God knows what God is doing! Rest assured in that! We should take comfort that we live in God’s world. The Creator is still in control.

   Do you remember when, a few years ago, (in 2013) the town of High River in Alberta was devastated by floods? You may have seen photos after the waters had receded of just how brown and barren the town looked. Mud and dirt and silt was everywhere and covered everything!

   What a disaster for the townsfolk! Flood waters, you know, carry toxins of all kinds. They leave behind such things as oil and gas and raw sewage. It has to be cleaned up before people can build again and work the land.

   And so, in a stroke of environmental genius, a Sunday School class at the United Church in town initiated what was called the Sunflower Project. They put a call out across the hole country for other churches to send them packets of sunflowers! Not only would they beautify the town as it crawled back from its barrenness, but life would take care of itself! It turns out that sunflowers are believed to be able to suck dangerous leads out of contaminated soil, helping to purify the ground without the need for more labour-intensive methods.

   Once they heard the church was looking for sunflowers, Canadians all across the country responded! Soon, the townspeople of High River had literally thousands of packages of sunflowers to plant in the spring.

   In the Fall of 2014, photos began to appear of sunflowers everywhere in High River! It was a beautiful sign of hope!

   And who created the world to take care of itself like this? God – our Creator. From a little seed, can come everything: a mustard bush to provide shade in the desert or homes for the birds; a sunflower to provide beauty and take toxins out of the land; and even from a small seed of hope, great things can grow. God provides for us. The Creator always has and always will.

   Now, go plant a seed and watch it grow!

                                                                                      Amen and amen.

Musings on Nick at Night

John 3

Do you ever feel totally in the dark? I think we all do at some time or another. We have days when we don’t know what’s going on. Or maybe, we have no idea how we got into this trouble we’re in. Or, more troubling, we have no idea how our day is going to end.

   We are in the dark. And we have questions that aren’t being answered to our satisfaction. Maybe something is troubling us and we feel the need to go in secret to someone and ask them to help guide us out of the darkness.

   And in that way, we are all Nicodemus. We think we might know the answer to our questions – but we don’t want to give up what we have and know now, for an unknown future. And, we’re still not sure enough or brave enough to share our thoughts with others. It’s just as Nicodemus acknowledged that he knew who Jesus was … and yet, still came to him under the protection of the night. He sure didn’t want others to see him speaking with Jesus! After all, Nicodemus was a leader of his church. What business would he have with Jesus?

   So – did he prefer to slink in undercover?

   It was as if he was too ashamed to admit he wanted to speak to Jesus. He was too afraid to let people know he acknowledged the truth about Jesus … and that he wanted to hang around with him. Because THAT would have got him into a lot of trouble with his religious community and his peers.

   One of the most interesting things about Nicodemus is that he is a stereotype – he is not so much a “real” person as he is a representative of a group of people on the fringes of Jesus’ spiritual world. He is representative of many people who are seeking the WAY to a higher truth. They are torn between two worlds – the traditional one and a newer one - not knowing which way to turn.

   And hopefully, this conversation with Jesus, as written by the author of the Gospel of John, will provide the answers Nicodemus and those he represents are looking for.

   And in our world and our time, doesn’t he represent a stereotype of people today? Folks who are seeking the Way to enlightenment themselves, but don’t quite know how to do it? After all, it’s not surprising that showing up to a building on a Sunday morning to chant prayers with strange words and sing songs from 1840 just isn’t appealing to a lot of people! And we shouldn’t blame them!

   All people are yearning to be fulfilled spiritually. But too many, like Nicodemus and like some of our friends today, don’t have a clue where to turn to find it!

   They may live in the shadow of unfulfilled yearning. So many people feel they are metaphorically in the dark – but don’t know where the light is!

   The difference is, Nicodemus had an inkling that he was there … and he took steps to get himself out of it. Of course, he had the benefit of a physical Jesus as well! In today’s world, that’s why it’s so important for people to be the metaphorical light for others. Our knowledge and faith must shine outwards from us for others to see. More about that later.

   But first, in the story John tells us, we are introduced to the shadow side of Nicodemus. The side that was ruled by fear and perhaps, pride.

   It is said we all have our “shadow sides” of our personalities. Those things that we don’t want to show in the daylight to other people. Author John Mombourquette wrote a book called: “How to Befriend Your Shadow:Welcoming Your Unloved Side.” The premise of his book is that each of us has a 'shadow', composed of everything we have driven into our unconscious for fear of being rejected by the people we loved when we were young. He writes that over the years, we created a whole underground world filled with things that were shameful, displeasing or upsetting to those around us.

   And, of course, Mombourquette attempts to help people navigate their way out of shame and grief in order that they can become full people – just as God intended. His book is not spiritual, so allow me to put it into words that work for me: Our Lord God, our Jesus Christ, the very one whom Nicodemus came to see under the cover of darkness, does not want you to live in a state of shame until the end of your days. Jesus teased Nic by saying “Hey! You’re a leader of your people and yet you come to me with such questions!” But Jesus Christ did not publicly shame Nicodemus for coming to him in darkness – which can be translated as a lack of understanding. Instead, he was welcomed and he was taught. Jesus took the time to teach him about God’s truth. Christ welcomed Nicodemus – an outsider to the established troupe that travelled with Jesus – with Grace and with radical love.

   And it worked! While Nic at Night seems to disappear after this passage that riddles the concept of being born unto earth and again into God, he appears in later chapters as a gentle mourner of what has happened to Jesus. And publicly! It is Nicodemus who helps Joseph of Arithmea remove Christ from the Cross and carry him to be prepared for burial. It appears that his faith in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, has moved along from tentative to whole-heartedly.

   The love of Christ will not be overcome.

   There is always hope for those who live and move in darkness, whether of their own choosing or by circumstance. And really, who isn’t in need of some enlightenment by Christ at one time or another.

If we’re going to say the words: “we are all sinners,” as Christians understand, then let’s truly accept the condition we are born into and work both WITH it and ON it.

   And while we’re struggling with our own selves, how do we help people who are looking for – yearning for – spiritual fulfillment? We let our own light and faith shine outward from us so all can see. We were created to live in community. I think the pandemic of 2020/21 has proven that to everyone! We miss each other’s company! We do better in community with one another!

    Sociology class years ago taught me that the number one thing people need to live well is a sense of belonging. Show people that they belong to you like family – and they belong to God most of all.

   Tell people that you care about them. And tell folks that the One who Created them loves them more than they will ever know. And if you can’t say it in words – then let your actions speak it for you.

   It’s always been easy to like people who like you and are just like you! Do something radically good … pray for those who are the challenging people in your life!

   As with Nicodemus, we are called to engage in a progressive spiritual movement towards our belief in, and love of, God the Creator, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is a good scripture to be reading on the week of Trinity Sunday in the Christian calendar.

   This is a passage about transformation. Nicodemus was transformed by his encounter with Jesus that night. He came with questions about his faith and left knowing the truth. Nicodemus was one of those Jews who was living on the cusp of change. And he was no longer going to be a fence-sitter about the Messiah. He stepped out of the shadows that night and left as a true believer in the power and love of the Creator, Son, and Holy Spirit.

   We too, are spiritual people living on the cusp of change and we have decisions to make as we move forward. The difference is, we don’t have to approach Christ under darkness. We can take all our questions and our burdens to the Lord.

   Just don’t expect easy answers. Our Creator likes to make life interesting like that!

   Hold your head high and remember who you are – a beautiful child of this universe! Have a great week.


   Look forward to the near future when we can all be together again and have opportunities to be good to someone else. 

Pentecost Sunday 2021

Thank the Lord for the excitement of the Holy Spirit!

Acts 2:1-21 

Have you ever been given a gift – you know, one of those little things at an office Christmas party or a family gift exchange or a birthday even, and you open it up and you’re not quite sure what it is at first?

   Is it a scarf? Or is it a table runner?

   Is it a fancy bottle opener … or is it a new-fangled utility tool? A tire gauge or a meat thermometer?

   Is it a jar of liquid honey … or is it someone’s overly-runny marmalade? Hmmm… and you try to fudge your words so that you don’t offend the person, all the while trying to figure out what you got there?

    That’s kind of the way Pentecost is. of course, in a deeper sense.

   The story’s pretty exciting: the leaders of the early church all gathered in one place when suddenly there was the sound of rushing wind like a tornado, then tongues of fire appeared resting on everyone’s head, and each one of them began speaking the gospel in other languages.

   Here on Pentecost, in dramatic fashion, something has been given to the church: a gift from God. But when we open it up, what exactly is this gift? What is it for? The gift on Pentecost is the Holy Spirit, of course. And to be a part of the church is to say, "We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit."

   But when you take the wrapping paper off, what exactly is this gift of the Holy Spirit? Is it a scarf or a table runner? Is it a tire gauge or a meat thermometer?

   This story fascinates people. The power of the wind moving like a freight train through the congregation, of tongues of fire resting over people's heads. And they say, "Ah, I know what the gift is! The gift of Pentecost is the gift of energy and excitement in the church." Pentecost is God's way of shaking the moss off the church, blowing the cobwebs out of the sanctuary, and allowing lightning and excitement to energize us.

   And God knows, we need it. I would just LOVE to seriously say to you on any given Sunday: raise your hands if you’re bored! And, I KNOW some of you would raise your hands – at least inside your heads you would!

   Believe me… there isn’t a Minister alive who would be surprised when people raised their hands. Most bored people let us know by just staying home on a Sunday morning! 

   Oh, we’re so serious in church!

    We have budgets to meet! Money to raise! Committees to run and important decisions to make such as whether to pave a parking lot or fix the roof first; or where to put a blue chair; or if the music is too loud – or not loud enough…

   All understandable, by the way. We tell you this is YOUR church … we want you to have ownership in it and so you will have opinions on things such as real flowers or fake flowers.

    And when we aren't bound up in day-to-day disputes, we're trying to face staggering problems in the world like war and poverty and health and education. And it begins to weigh us down.

   Wouldn't it be nice to be lifted up and to have the life of the church flying like a kite, tugging at us in the powerful wind of the Spirit, with energy and excitement? Now that’s the gift of Pentecost!

   This gift that we receive on Pentecost Sunday is the gift of power. After all, Jesus did say to the disciples, "When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you shall receive power."

   And if it's power we receive this day, then God knows we need it. There used to be a time, when the church had a certain kind of clout in the world, when it was viewed with respect and prestige. But today, Christians are perceived by many to be walking out of step with the world around us.

   I remember about 20 years ago attending a zoning change meeting in my community where neighbours were against the building of a church on an empty lot because it would ruin their ability to sit on their decks on a Sunday morning and enjoy a beer!

   Such foolishness! And by the way, the church was eventually built with the proviso that a good buffer of trees separated it from its residential neighbours.

   We obviously have the power to make people uncomfortable. And that’s historic, because Jesus did that to people too. But the power we are given by God is not that – rather, it is the power of gentleness and humility and quiet strength.

    I know you all know this Aesop Fable I'm about to tell you, but it bears repeating today: It's called “The North Wind and the Sun?”

   The North Wind and the Sun were fighting over who was the most powerful. And they agreed that the one who could make a man who was walking down the road take his coat off, would be declared the victor.

   The North Wind tried his power first and blew with all his might, but the harder he blasted this poor guy, the closer the Traveler wrapped his cloak around him, and so finally, the north wind turned to the sun and said: "see what you can do."

   The Sun suddenly shone out with all his warmth. The Traveler no sooner felt that warmth than he not only took off his coat, but eventually shed all his clothes. The sun was declared the victor.

   The power of Pentecost is the power of warmth and light. It's not the kind of power that the world thinks of as power. It is the power of being able to move with God’s breath; to feel the warmth and passion of God’s fire; to be able to speak in the language that God gives all Christians - the language of compassion, with the power to heal the world. We are given the language with the words to speak in the brokenness and tragedy that affects ourselves and all others.

   There’s an interesting story I came across recently about Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross that I had never heard before. Apparently, when she was writing her famous book on death and dying, part of her research involved interviewing dying patients in the hospital, trying to find out how they felt and thought as they faced death.

   When she did her rounds in the hospital, she began to notice a pattern. Sometimes she would go into a dying person's room and the person would be calm, at peace, and tranquil. She also began to notice that often this was after the patient's room had been cleaned by a certain hospital worker.

   One day, Dr. Ross happened to run into this person leaving one of the rooms, and she said to her, "What are you doing with my patients?"

   The woman thought she was being reprimanded and said, "I'm not doing anything with your patients."

   "No, no," said Dr. Ross. "It's a good thing. After you go into their rooms, they seem at peace. What are you doing with my patients?"

   "I just talk to them," the woman said. "You know, I've had two babies of my own die on my lap. But God never abandoned me. I tell them that. I tell them that they aren't alone, that God is with them, and that they don't have to be afraid."

   That's the gift at Pentecost: passionate and gentle words to speak among the brokenness and tragedy of the world. Words and actions that give hope wherever it is needed.

   Pentecost doesn’t have to be one Sunday that we celebrate birth and renewal. Pentecost is a feeling of enthusiasm for our church; and joy of having a church family and community; and Holy energy that is breathed into us and seared with fire onto our hearts.

   Those first disciples burned with a steady inward fire and couldn’t wait to get out and tell people about Jesus Christ. Today, we do that not by evangelizing and standing on a soapbox on a street corner; but by the example of who we are. We know God’s language, we feel God’s spirit all around us and we have the power to heal others with simple words and actions.

Amen and Amen! 

This is a lovely adaptation of Psalm 23:


From the Unitarian Universalists: “PSALM 23 FOR THIS MOMENT”

By Kevin Tarsa


May I remember in this tender moment

that Love is my guide, always,

shepherding me toward ways of openness and compassion.

I have what I need, really, with Love at my side,

above me, below me, in front of me, behind me,

inside every cell of me,

Love infused everywhere!

Just when the weight of the world I inhabit

threatens to drop me in place

and press my hope down into the ground beneath me

Love invites me to rest for a gentle while,

and leads the center of my soul to the quiet, still,

restoring waters nearby that,

somehow,

I had not noticed.

And so, Love, quietly,

sets me once again on its tender and demanding path.

Even when the walls close around me

and the cries of death echo through untold corners,

gripping my heart with fear and sadness,

I know... I know… that all will be well, that I will be well,

when Love whispers near to me,

glints at the corner of my eye,

rests with gentle and persistent invitation upon my shoulders.

Yes, Love blesses me,

Even as the sources and symbols of my pain look on.

Love blesses me from its infinite well,

And I turn and notice...

that goodness and kindness and grace,

follow me everywhere, everywhere I go.

I live in a house of Love,

Love that will not let me go.

I live in a house of love,

And always will.


Note: this prayer, Psalm 23 is re-cast in the language of Love, and was written for the 2017 GA memorial service in honour of former UUA Moderator, Jim Key (Universalist)


A PRAYER FOR THE DOUBTING THOMASES

Gracious and loving God, you are the Guiding Light in our world of uncertainty. 

You are the Power that brings peace out of chaos.

Today, we stand before you in awe of your eternal goodness and love for us. 

We are here, still basking in the joy of your resurrection and presence. 

And we ask forgiveness for wandering from you in our own self-sufficiency 

when we think we alone can create lives filled with hope, love, joy and forgiveness of others. 

In our humility, forgive us for our foolishness.

Forgive our doubts about your goodness and presence and thank you 

for encouraging our questions that serve to pull us closer to you in faith. 

Especially, thank you for guiding us to answers that continue to comfort and strengthen us.

May we always feel your presence. 

May we always know you encourage our questions and provide us with the Way to truthful answers. 

And may you walk with us as we share the Good News that you live among us.

On this day, we pray for those among us and those afar, who are suffering in any way today. 

We know that you also suffer when we feel pain, anxiety, loneliness, depression, 

and estrangements from those we love. 

We know you are always working to heal those wounds and burdens we carry.

Be with all those this week who are grieving the loss of loved ones, of situations that they cherished, 

and relationships they no longer have.

May the power of your Holy Spirit bring light wherever there are shadows in this world. 

May your Light bring peace to places where peace is hard to find; 

Comfort to those who are uncomfortable, 

and Love to those who feel unlovable.

We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.


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