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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.

About the Waiting

Thoughts from meditation for Dec. 12

     So, the crowds ask John: “What then should we do?” Good question. It’s a question that comes down to us through the centuries.

     “What should we do?”

      Unlike the crowds who were listening to John, we have the roadmap. We have the guide book we call the Bible. We have the benefit of the words as reported by its writers. We should know what we are to do. Just follow the words and ways of Jesus Christ.

     And we should wait. That’s one of the main themes of Advent. The waiting. We are in a time of waiting, but that doesn’t mean we do nothing else.

     We are not in a dormant “in between time.”

     There’s a story told by the famous author and philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in his 1943 essay “Being and Nothingness.” He’s waiting in a café for his friend, Pierre. And he comes to the realization that in his waiting, everything he does is done in anticipation of this one act of waiting. Sitting there, he looks at his watch, he looks up at the door continually, he glances every time he senses someone walking into the café…. Everything he does is controlled by his waiting for Pierre. That anticipated Pierre, is shaping every moment of his life at that time.

     That is exactly the way we should be living today. Every move that we make should be in anticipation of our preparation to live in God’s kingdom whether here on earth or in the life ever after that we are promised.

From Nov. 21, 2021 meditation:

Who Are You, Jesus?

   Pilate asks: who is Jesus? And today, with the benefit of 2000 years of wisdom, we can answer him. We can tell Pilate that Jesus is composed of mystery …. and of truth …


   In chemistry, He turned water to wine;

   In biology, He was born without the normal conception;

   In physics, He disproved the law of gravity when he ascended into heaven;

   In economics, He disproved the law of diminishing return by feeding more than 5000 people with two fish & five loaves of bread;

   In medicine, He cured the sick and blind without administering a single dose of drugs;

   In history, He is the Beginning and the End;

   In government, He said that He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace;

   In religion, He said no one comes to the Father except through Him;

   Jesus had no servants, yet they called Him Master;

   Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher;

   Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer;

   He had no army, yet kings feared Him;

   He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world;

   He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him;

   He was buried in a tomb, yet He lives today!!!


Thanks be to God our true heavenly King. 

 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.

"​Oh no, Lord! Not me! Excuses ... excuses" 

                                                        Jeremiah has them all!

Jeremiah 1:4-10 - Pentecost 11, Aug. 21, 2022

The Call of Jeremiah

4 The LORD said to me, 5 “I chose you before I gave you life, and before you were born I selected you to be a prophet to the nations.”

6 I answered, “Sovereign LORD, I don't know how to speak; I am too young.”

7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say that you are too young, but go to the people I send you to, and tell them everything I command you to say. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I will be with you to protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!”

9 Then the LORD reached out, touched my lips, and said to me, “Listen, I am giving you the words you must speak. 10 Today I give you authority over nations and kingdoms to uproot and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

The Word of the Lord: thanks be to God.

A meditation on scripture follows written by Rev. Rosemary Godin

Well …. Those are comforting words of the Lord to Jeremiah: “I chose you – and I knew you before you were born.”

And if that doesn’t tell you how special you are to the Lord God, I don’t know what else can!

   Fast forward to Jeremiah 29”11 and the prophet tells us the Lord says: “For surely, I know the plans I have for you.”

And the Lord doesn’t ever plan for us to be down in the dumps; plan for us to be hurt or wounded; plan for us to fail – God plans for us to soar!

    Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. The plans God has for us get diverted – because we are humans living on earth – a place and a time where God has created and is still creating. With Christ in our lives, we muddle our way through the bad times knowing that we can pick up on God’s plan for us when the crisis has ended.

   So when God says to us (for it is not just Jeremiah God is speaking to),  “I know the plan I have for you.” You can bet these are great plans for us!

   We are precious in God’s sight. That’s in scripture – very wise people have discerned – even heard – God say that about us.

And what does the young Jeremiah say back to God ? Like many, many prophets, he says: “Oh no … not me Lord. I am too young. Too inexperienced. I don’t know enough yet about the world and about you.”

   And, he might have been thinking: “And when I speak up, people will hate me!” And that’s not the life many of us would choose for ourselves. And so, it's not just prophets who put up resistance!

   Remember last week, we spoke about how Jesus came to divide people? Well, that’s what happened generations earlier with Jeremiah too. The Lord put the words into Jeremiah’s mouth: and told him that his words would be used to pluck up and pull down; overthrow and destroy; build and plant. Jeremiah was intended to be used to set things right in God’s world. Wow!

   And as we all know, God’s truth is often hard to hear for those who maybe aren’t headed off in the right direction. That’s why it’s so important to deliver the truth in a gentle manner – speak the truth with love. Something easier said than done. Jeremiah sure didn’t make himself very popular speaking the truth. But, someone had to do it.

   God chose Jeremiah and Isaiah and John the Baptist for example, to spread God’s Word. God chooses all of us to have some role in life. It’s usually tied into the natural gifts we were born with, or those we hone during our lifetimes.

    Those here who are Star Wars or Harry Potter geeks – (perhaps aficionados is a better word) – will recognize this phenomenon in those works – both Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter lived out a Call that was destined to them even before they were born!

    But let’s face it – every single one of us is born to a Call of some kind. When I was in Gr. 1 for example, my limited experience at school had already drawn me to a life of writing – because I had some talent in it, and it set me apart from others. God gave me that skill.

    We all head off towards what it is we do well – we take the easiest route – that’s normal. But when we are called to something else that is worthwhile and good – but more difficult – we act like Jeremiah did! “Oh no – not me. Pick someone else, please,”

   And we have excuses – boy do we have excuses! Jeremiah said he was too young. When Moses was called to do God’s work, he said he couldn’t speak well – we think he stuttered; Jonah just didn’t want to go to Ninevah – his life was falling apart; and Saul – well Saul was content leading a life of crime and bullying until he became Paul. They all had excuses and so all of these people resisted a Call that came to them from a Holy and good place.

   But God has something in mind for all of us. Just as we all have a role in our families – we have a role in our lives as members of the family of God.

   Psychologists tell us that siblings in families all have roles – mostly traditional. The oldest has the role as the one to do things first in the family. They test out the waters and the rest watch to see if they will follow or not. (The Guinea pig as it were);the oldest girl in the family usually ends up being the caregiver of the parents; the youngest in the family is often most successful because everyone else has supported and encouraged them. These are roles we take.

   I married into a family of 11 children, and as an outsider I could see the roles each took: there is always one in each large family who keeps in communication with each sibling, just as the mother did – and keeps the family together. There’s always one who leads when the group is together; one who never behaves but makes life interesting and amusing, etc. These are all just stereotypes that ring true with you, or not. I resist putting anyone in boxes!

   Do you ever wonder why you are “volunteered” by other people here at church? It’s because other people see attributes in you that you don’t see yourself.

   So, don’t be so quick to say No, next time – people see skills in you that your church needs. They might see that God has uniquely prepared you to do or to be something helpful.

    We are all called to ministry of one kind or another. How does God want you to be sharing in this ministry? (PAUSE)

    It’s amazing the way we tend to clutch onto things at church with a death grip – when really, what God is calling us to do is to prune – to tear down in order to begin to nurture and re-grow in a different but more effective way.

   Jeremiah listened to God who told him to tear down and pluck up – and that didn’t make the young prophet very popular at all!

    But those who step out in faith and trust that God will build up, witness to the fact that the rewards of responding to God’s call far outweigh the perceived costs. Our lives are much richer when we are doing what we were created to be doing.

God has called us all to share in the ministry of the church together. Everyone who claims the title “Christian” is called to be in ministry.

    And when we don’t think we can do it, when we think we are not smart enough; not strong enough; not something enough -  we should remember the words that bring Jeremiah comfort: “God is with us.” God has the power to put words into our mouths and actions into our hearts.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Transformed and Transfigured in the Light of Christ

A meditation based on Luke 9:28-36


for Transfiguration Sunday


Feb. 27, 2022

Note to Preachers: If you have access to video during your services, there is a wonderful painting by Raphael called: “The Transfiguration” that you can display and use during your sermon. (A portion of it (the top half) that includes Christ is referred to in the sermon) Or … try putting it on or in your bulletin.

Greetings this day on Transfiguration Sunday in our church calendar.

   I want to bring your attention to this painting that you will find in your bulletin.(or wherever you have put it)

   This is just a portion of Raphael’s painting called “The Transfiguration.” Jesus is in spiritual ecstasy – prayerful-looking and calm. He has climbed to the top of a high mountain with Peter, James and John – and all of a sudden, they find themselves in the company of Elijah and Moses.  

   As we read in the scripture from Luke, the disciples are amazed, in awe and even fearful. The light is so bright, they have fallen to the ground and can’t seem to look.

     It is the vision of glory.

     Here we see the Jesus who is strong and powerful – the healer; the king; the saviour. If we ever have moments of thinking that our world is beyond saving – that it’s just one bad thing after another – then this is the Jesus we must keep in our minds.

     This is Jesus shown in God’s glory. The cloud around him is about to come down and envelope everyone on that mountain … to wrap them in that glory.

     Here is the Jesus Christ who will soon show those disciples and us – that he has the power to overcome death.

    Think about this story :

    A ship was in a storm and in grave distress. The passengers were alarmed.

One of them, against orders, went up to the deck and made his way to the pilot house.

The captain was at the wheel, but,seeing the man was greatly frightened; he gave him a reassuring smile.

Returning to the other passengers the man said, "I have seen the face of the captain, and he smiled. All is well."

"I have seen the face of the captain.,” He smiled. “All is well;” That could be the phrase on which the story of the transfiguration is based.

     Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of the mountain and there Jesus was changed - transfigured into a white glow that could never be duplicated on earth.

     And along with this glow came two people out of history – for them, out of their own Holy Book - Elijah and Moses.

The three disciples didn’t know what to make of this situation. Yet, we must assume that they too, were changed by this experience.

   Impulsive Peter said, “Let us build three tents to this great occasion. Let us stay here and relish in the moment”.

   But then a voice said to them, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him."

   Just as they seemed not to be able to comprehend any more, and they were overwhelmed with emotion - everything was gone. (Pause)

   And Jesus told them to follow him down the mountain and not to tell anyone of this experience!

   Peter, James and John could have thought to themselves: "We have seen the face of the captain, and he smiled. .... All is well.”

      They saw the glory of God through Jesus, Moses and Elijah. They heard the voice of God as he spoke on that mountain.

      They could have thought: “we can face all the storms the world may send us. We are ready to battle whatever comes in the world.”

     Yes. That’s what they could have thought. But did they?

     Their first impulse was to stay on that mountain top .... with all its majesty and glory. But, on the other hand, they chose to follow Jesus. For, after all, it was only because of Jesus that they had seen and felt God’s Glory. Staying up there without Jesus would not provide them – or us – with what we need to feel fulfilled and truly alive.

     We’ve all had mountaintop experiences. Times when we’ve felt like we were on top of the world and we just wanted to savour the moment.

     When we aced that test at school, when we got that badge in guides or scouts, when we graduated, when our children or grandchildren were born, ......that’s when we feel we are receiving a special blessing from God.

     Or, maybe your mountaintop experience occurred as you sat quietly in prayer .... it can happen in those moments as well.

And we keep going back to that feeling, hoping that it will happen again – trying to recover the joy and awe we felt. That feeling of the presence of God.

    These are times when metaphorically, we feel that we can see the face of the Captain ..... and all is well. 

     When we think of a mountain top experience, we can’t help but remember the Mountain Top that Martin Luther King described in his very last sermon that he preached in April 3, 1968 in the city of Memphis. Entitled "I see the Promised Land," Dr. King said he had peace. That he didn’t worry about anything ........ he had been to the mountaintop with God.

     He had no fear of the world, and I quote that he said: "For my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"

The very next day, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.

On the night of his speech, he was telling us that he was ready to face the future... because he had seen the face of the Captain ..... and all was well. (Pause)

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be in that crowd on April 3 and hear that speech? It would have been marvelous. It would have been a mountain top experience for anyone who was there.

I’m going to read the last paragraph of what Martin Luther King – a person of tremendous faith in God – said that night:

He said:

“Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter to me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will.

And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.

And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” (end of quote)

     What a thing to think and be able to say on the night before he died! He truly was a man of faith.

     Many times, we as Christians, want that mountain top experience in our faith life. We sure like the highs, .....and we sure want to shun the lows. And so, like Peter, we want to set up our tents and stay there.

     But what did Jesus do? He didn’t stay any longer than he had to and he set his face toward Jerusalem --- and the work he knew was waiting for him.

     Jesus understood the need for the mountain top, ..... but he knows that the real work is in the valleys and deserts. And he teaches us that the work we do isn't just for us as individuals. It's not about our own happiness. It's about what needs to be done for our neighbours.

      Jesus (and Moses as well - if you have read Exodus 34:29-35) and everyone with him went to the mountain to be close to God. And they were all changed. They were all transformed and transfigured into people who would go on to serve God's purposes in this world. Jesis came down the mountain prepared to be our Saviour. 

     Mountain top experiences are wonderful, but living, working, helping, loving in the deserts and wildernesses and changing ourselves so that we can learn how to help others better .... is where Christ calls us to be. 

        So, enjoy your mountaintop experiences – but don’t stay too long – because the rest of the world needs you.  We need you to come down transfigured and refreshed – ready to face the world down here.

   I encourage you to be amazed yourselves at the glory of the goodness of God. Be amazed and transfigured by how God works in our world and in our lives.

     Be amazed that even though Christ could have stayed on the top of the mountain basking in glory, he came down with his disciples and he works among us to this very day.

     We are transformed by his love. Here at ground level, we are continually renewed and changed by the light of glory.

Thanks be to God for the blessing of being able to change and become closer to God.

Amen and Amen. 

Choose Love ...

Always Choose Love

Have you ever been rejected? Of course you have. We human beings have experienced rejection ever since that kid next door wouldn’t share their toy with us! Or we felt it when we were the last one picked for the Red Rover team at summer camp.

It’s a lesson we learn very early – out on the playground and sometimes even in our own homes. Life, my friends, is not one whole bowl of cherries all the time. I’m sure that’s not news to you!

     What a strange dichotomy of scripture passages we have for this week. At least, that’s what we would think at first glance.

On the one hand, we have that beautiful passage out of 1 Corinthians 13 that guides us when it is read at wedding ceremonies, and comforts us if read at a funeral. And on the other hand – well … we have Jesus’ hometown crowd asking him who he thinks he is! That upstart! Imagine – the son of Joseph the carpenter passing himself off as the manifestation of the promise of God to Israel.

     Let’s look at 1 Corinthians first – that oh so familiar passage to all Christians:

     Love … that passage speaks of kind and gentle things and ends with: “and the greatest of these is love.”

     Wow … Jesus knew great love – but he also knew great rejection. That passage from Luke ends not with love – but with people in Jesus’ hometown threatening to throw him off a cliff!

     But our faith tells us that the greatest emotion we can ever have or feel, is love.

     Jesus Christ stood up for God’s truth and justice out of love for neighbour and community. His message from the Lukan passage is that God’s love is extended to include everyone – not just the hometown crew. And that was really hard for his home community to hear – and it made them angry enough that some wanted to kill him right then and there.

     But, he survived and moved on … and we are grateful that Paul was able to understand the words Jesus said and to write letters to people in such places as Rome and Philippi and Corinth that spread the message of love. Love for neighbour, love for self as a child of God, love of community – and in our day, it is so important to hear the message of love for the world – meaning people, creation and earth.

     God so loved this world, that God gave us their only Son … who came and felt everything we do as human beings: joy and sorrow; hospitality and rejection; energy and fatigue; good health and illness; even great despair. No matter what you are feeling during your life journey – God, through the life of Jesus Christ has felt it first and walks with all of us through it.

     So yes, Jesus has felt great rejection – which is much more poignant when felt in his own hometown, by his own people. But he has also felt great love. It is an eternal love that lasts well – forever. It has lasted forever and will continue to last. It may change in how we, here on earth, understand and explain it, yet it will never go away.

     In the past, in the present and in the future, we will benefit from that love. In a world of change – which is how God created the world – even mountains will eventually pass away - God’s love is the one thing that will never change.

     I hope and pray that in your own deepest moments, you can still feel the love of God in your life.

     And we say: thanks be to God. Amen, and Amen.

Parts & Pieces & 

One Whole

A meditation based on 

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

and Luke 4:14-21


(during Week of Christian Unity

for Sunday, January 23)

Do you think the goalie is the star of the hockey team? Well, they sure wouldn’t want to be out there all alone in net! They need the forwards, the defense players and the centres – or they wouldn’t have a good team! Oh! And the coaches – and referees – and the waterboys (people?) … and the fans who pay the money to see the games … so many, many parts go together to make one whole.

     You think a car just needs a nicely-fashioned hunk of metal and four tires? Have fun pushing it.

     No, a whole is often made up of many parts. And each of those parts is just as important as the thing that Is the whole.

     YOU are important as a member of your faith family. Your gifts and talents and attendance and thoughts and actions are essential to this world – both the world around you and the big world in God’s universe.

      Many parts make up one good well-oiled machine.

     That’s not exactly the way many of us would describe our churches – or even the faith we practice … and maybe that’s why our United Church creed resonates so much with me in the lines that say: “we believe in God, who has created and is creating” – IS CREATING – those words always leave me gobsmacked! God isn’t done with anything yet – not me as a person, and not with the church we love … not anything in the universe or beyond.

     And so, there is hope. Hope that all the parts we are made of … all the parts our church are made of … might not be as well-oiled as we would like them to be, but God isn’t finished yet – not by a long shot.

     And all of us – you and me – belong to this family many of us call God’s people. For our belief is that our compassionate and wise God is responsible for all Creation. And as big as that is – we belong. Little you and me, belong.

     And it’s not a passive belonging. Whatever gifts we have, or have developed, or will develop through the Spirit, are needed, and wanted as a part that makes up the whole Body of Christ.

     Are you a heart? Are you hands and feet? Are you a mind full of creativity or knowledge? You’ll figure it out and discern where you belong.

      Just try not to be the appendix… it can go rogue every now and then and someone will come along and take it out!

     One of the two passages in this week's lectionary is about a sermon Jesus preached one day in Nazareth. Now, clergy have long been the target of jokes, particularly those dealing with the length of sermons.

    For example, there's the one about the preacher who was ending his sermon and apologized to the congregation for speaking too long, "I don't have a watch with me", he said. Somebody from the back shouted out, "Well - do you have a calendar?"


     In today's story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus shows us his brilliance in his economy of words as a preacher. We are told he went to his home synagogue in Nazareth and was given the Scroll of Isaiah and he reads: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring the Good News to the poor. He has sent me to announce release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those who have been oppressed; and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."

Then he sat down. 

     And Jesus said: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing".

     That, my friends, is a very short sermon.

     Jesus has come home to tell his people who he is and what he will do: he is the anointed One, and he has come to announce the good news.

     And of course, we know, he IS the good news.

     And in that short sermon, those few words, Jesus has brought good news to the poor; in all the ways poverty can mean; and release for those who are oppressed and captive – in all the ways that can mean.

     And his very daring sermon is very daring ends with his declaration that he – Jesus -– is the fulfillment of the promise written about by the prophet Isaiah. The Messiah is in their presence filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Jesus says: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing"  Not yesterday, not tomorrow. But today.

     This is the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This is when we turn our attention to our identity as One Body in Christ. We – each of us – plays a part in being the hands and feet and heart and will of Christ on earth for others.

     And we don’t have to make grand gestures for people to see God working through us, and in us and with us.

      The fact is, Christ turns to all of us to do the work of God in our world. Many parts of One body of Christ. 

     Everyone has a role in a family … you’ve probably realized that by now. And whether you’re the peacemaker, the jokester, the provider, the do-er, the thinker … even the questioner or antagonist of the family - whatever role you provide in our family: you are welcome. You are called by Name. You are encouraged and needed in this family of God.

     Even though we can’t be meeting all together as we really want to these days, the day will come when we can. And we will celebrate all our different ways and thoughts and purposes that we are blessed with by the Spirit. And we will feel such gratitude because we belong in this family of Creation that God has made.

    But until that day comes – we say: we are still here God. And we want to be part of all the many ways we can glorify your name.

                                           Amen, and Amen.

A message about Baptism by Water while we're all going through Baptism by Fire


Based on Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 & Isaiah 43:1-7

for Sunday, January 9, 2022

I’m sure we all feel like we’re going through Baptism by Fire during this awful pandemic we are all experiencing.

     We miss our old way of life. We miss gathering with friends and family; we miss just walking out the door to go to an event that gives us joy; we miss our sense of community when we attend a meeting or sit in a coffee shop; we miss our visits to someone in a long term care home; ----- we miss living without fear.

     And so, instead of the baptism by water we read about in this week’s message in Luke, we feel as though we are being put through the wringer … enduring a long baptism by fire.

     But this is God’s world. Always remember that. This is God’s world – and we will come out of this on the other side. That day will come. And we will be changed.

     For that is what being put through fire does. It changes things. It too, purifies and often changes for the better.

     And my prayer for all of us is that we recognize whatever good changes this pandemic has forced upon our world and upon us – that we find the wisdom and the strength to carry on in the future as a more humble, gentle, compassionate people. And that the care we are showing and feeling for others – and for ourselves – continues on as a legacy from this present trouble.

But it will end. Have hope and faith in that. God will overcome and we will have our lives back.

       Now, Let’s look at this week’s readings from both Isaiah and Luke:

     In our Gospel of Luke, we have the Baptism of Jesus as a 30-year-old. This comes so soon after we have been reading about his birth! Unlike the many words that celebrate his birth, fewer words – almost hasty words – tell us about his Baptism.

Unfortunately, this marks the end of John the Baptist’s ministry – for he is beheaded a few months after the baptism, but it also marks the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. 

     There he was at the river, lined up with the poor, the sick and the lame … the outcasts and the marginalized. And Jesus did so, as a way of making it clear that he was not only with them, but that he was one of them.

     This line of downtrodden people formed in front of John the Baptist with the hope of new beginnings through a return to God – and Jesus stood with them.

      At his own baptism, Jesus identified with the damaged and broken people who need God in our lives. Those like you and I who have been hurt and disappointed.

     Because EVERYBODY’S life has times of sadness.

     And in our stories of those times, we look for God – even if we don’t realize it at the time. There are times when we are immersed in the need for God! We might be spiritually down in the muck – but with God in our lives – we eventually emerge out of the lows, through the waters of hope, and rise up to take big gulps of the fresh and life-giving presence of God. 

     We live in an increasingly secular world – a world where God is running in the background. Much like apps and programs on a computer, God is always there – but too often put in the background.

     We are huge consumers of media. And we know that a story on TV, or in the movies always has its good guys and bad guys; it has its troubles – or turbulent waters - that need to be gone through; it has a hero or heroine who saves the day through goodness; and almost always – good overcomes evil… hope wins out - unless it’s the end of season cliffhanger – and then we have to wait until next season to see that, yes – the good guy is still alive.

     This “good overcomes evil” is not new to us – this is a pattern that exists in the universe – it is order and goodness brought out of chaos. It is the all-powerful and intrinsic existence of God in our world; and our lives and our business.

      Seven hundred years before the birth and Baptism of Jesus, there lived a prophet named Isaiah. And Isaiah couldn’t stop talking about the coming of the Messiah.

     Now, prophets were pretty noisy people – especially in a crisis. If we think of the prophets as thundering proclaimers of collective sin, which they often were, this passage we read from Isaiah 43 today, shows the capacity of Isaiah to also offer God’s reassurance.

       Just as the ancients in Israel and Judah – by all accounts some pretty dispirited people - needed to hear reassurance of divine love, protection, and presence, so do we today, almost 3000 years later.

     The passage from the Old Testament today speaks tender, encouraging, empowering words to those who face an uncertain future.

      The words in Isaiah were so supportive to the people who heard them down through the years of studying, that they inspired people to never give up and keep searching for their homeland and for their Messiah who would lead them out of spiritual and physical bondage to others.

       “Do not fear,” Isaiah tells us God speaks to us … for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Is there anything more comforting in scripture than that sentence?

       Now, I haven’t counted them myself – but apparently “Do Not Fear” is written 365 times in the Bible. And in the modern calendar we go by, that works out to be one for every day of the year …


       It’s clear that ancient people had a lot to be afraid about! It is clear that people of today have a lot to be afraid about.

And so, our God speaks to us across the ages through Isaiah and through Luke; across the universe; across the cultures; across every single thing that divides us and puts us into groups – with one common message: do not fear.

     We are vulnerable and fragile as human beings in this huge universe – and yet Isaiah tells us that God calls us precious; calls us sons and daughters; we are honoured and we are loved.

     God says we will never be alone – that God will always be with us – an eternal presence in our lives.

     When I do have to pass through waters; through fire; through famine – I will not be alone. Nor will you.

     We might come out on the other side wounded and hurt, but we were not alone when we suffered.

     Now, that might not be what we want to hear – we want to hear that we will have lives where we don’t suffer at all! But that’s never gonna happen!

     And so, because that is life, our Creator has made promises to us: promises that God will always bring us home; that God will never leave us alone; that God’s light will overcome the shadows; that we are saved and we are forgiven; that we are loved beyond anything we can understand.

      And we are asked to believe that God will work through this church and through its people to do ministry in the world without paralyzing fear, because of God’s presence. Fear not …God is with you and will put the right words in your mouth and set you on the right path.

     Thanks be to God, Amen. 

Just Two Church Ladies

This is the Sunday of Love. And God certainly knows about love.

     And so do kids … I was wondering … just what is love from a kid’s point of view? Well, here’s some quotes from a back issue of Parenting Today:

     "When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So, my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love."

     "Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is okay."

      "Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty - and still says he’s handsomer than Robert Redford."

     "Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day."

       A 7-year old says: "Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day."

     A six-year-old says, "Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.

      I think those are pretty good answers! 

     When God created humankind, God made us with the great capacity to love. And of course, we love because we were first loved by the Creator.  God’s love, our first love, is so great that miracles come out of it.

     Can you just imagine how both Elizabeth and Mary must have felt when they learned that they were to bear children? Two ordinary people – but both faithful women – one older one very young. Just like many women of different generations in any church we know.

     How excited and maybe even frightened they both must have been over the circumstances of their pregnancies. To say they were both surprised is an understatement.

     Through the years we have romanticized – if not sanitized – the circumstances around Mary’s pregnancy.

      We know the Christmas card Mary – the Madonna scene of mother and child. And yet, this whole thing would have been scandalous in her day – and even though Joseph still stood by her, it must have been so difficult for him considering the gossip and whispers that he must have seen and felt as he went through his day.

     And what about Elizabeth? Pregnant at an “advanced age?” Is it possible people even doubted her pregnancy – were they laughing at her?

     Well – at least she had scriptural precedent in the story of Sarah and her pregnancy at the age of 90!

     But can you just imagine the story that was going around their hometown: You know that old Liz, wife of the pastor Zechariah? Well. She’s pregnant – huh! At her age - and you won’t believe this! So is her cousin, Mary – you know, that 12-year-old one who’s engaged to young Joseph the carpenter. And, get this! She’s swearing she’s still a virgin. Yes … and she’s telling people that she’s going to give birth to God’s child – the Messiah, he will be – imagine that! As if God would choose that little Mary to carry the Messiah! Did ya ever hear such a story? Being visited by angels and all that ….well, that’s a kooky family, isn’t it!”

     But God’s truth was that these were just two church ladies who probably went to the synagogue almost daily and prayed without ceasing – and just were going about their business like you and me. And God favoured them.

     And then life happened. And as someone once said: “Life happens when you you’re making other plans.”

     God threw a little wrench into Mary and Joseph’s plans for a great start to their marriage; and we’re not told that Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband was overjoyed at this turn of events – he is silent throughout all of this – and let’s face it. While the Mothers no doubt loved their children – it didn’t end well for either of the boys.

     And yet – and yet – the pain and suffering of their parents made our world better for us. Both of these families lost children for the Glory of God and I’m sure their reward for the sacrifice was in heaven.

     Elizabeth and Mary both mourned the violent deaths of their children. But these children grew to be a connection between the Lord and humankind on earth. Two thousand years later, we remember and honour them.

     John and scripture about him reminds us year after year to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ child.

       And through our knowledge and worship of Jesus Christ, we are reminded that God is not just some great Being up in the sky – but lives among us, exists within our very bodies and souls and our hearts. Emmanuel. God with us.

     These stories we read from the Bible year after year connect us through the Word to the One who created us and all life. These are familiar stories about struggles and joys; challenges and failures and successes; life and death – and eternity. They are about the human and the divine.

     They are about a lot of ordinary people doing extraordinary things on behalf of God and for God.

     Elizabeth and Mary were two good women in a world where women weren’t all that powerful. And just look at what God asked them to do and to be.

     And we wonder - what are we being called to do and to be. Just ordinary you and me. What can we do for the Lord?

Yes. Out of Love, God calls on ordinary people to do remarkable things.

     And out of love we respond in the same way as Elizabeth and Mary: “Yes Lord. Yes”. Amen.

Joy! Joy! Joy!

A meditation for Advent 3

Did you ever try to hide something? At this time of year, you might know what I mean. It’s the time of year for secrets … for good secrets as we try to hide the toys we’ve bought for the kids and find a hiding place that they won’t find. … as we keep that special gift we’ve bought for our partners or friends or family a secret … we try not to talk about it and we change the subject whenever the conversation comes too close to what we’ve bought or done …. but it’s hard, isn’t it? And why? Because it’s so hard to contain our excitement and our joy!

     I remember hearing about some gold prospectors who discovered an exceptionally rich mine. One of them said, "Hey, we've got it made as long as we don't tell anybody else before we stake our claims." So, they each vowed to keep the secret.

Because they had to have more tools and provisions, they headed for town. After buying all the supplies they needed, they hurried back to the mine site.

     But they weren't alone. A crowd of people followed them because their discovery was written all over their faces. Everybody knew something was up!

     And that’s because often, what happens on the inside – our joy OR our sorrow - shows on the outside. Joyful Christians with the light of God on their faces are such angels in our world today!

     Hopefully, you know a few of these. Hopefully, there are people in your “bubble” whose love of God is written all over them! They can’t contain their joy about it!

     We have been reading Luke 3 and know that people were coming to see John the Baptist because they were waiting for something. They were yearning for something and were living in the hope that John the Baptist could fill that void for them. You see, yearning is a human condition. And often, we all yearn for joy.

     Think about the times you have felt totally satisfied and happy in life. You felt like nothing could be more perfect … it may have been that moment you gazed for the first time upon your first child or grandchild.

     Or you watched someone you love reach a great achievement. Or a Christmas past when every single one of your family were all together in the same room. In those few moments, you might have taken a deep breath and you knew that you were living in heaven on earth ….

        But that moment didn’t last very long, did it? Those moments of total perfection can be so fleeting.

But the joy is, that we will get those moments our entire life. It is up to us to recognize those perfect moments and live fully in those moments … to appreciate those times when they are happening. The rest of the time, we live in a subconscious yearning to get those feelings back.

     Our faith in God assures us that those moments will come again… often in surprising ways and when we least expect it.

And none of us would expect good news after reading those first few lines out of the reading from Luke 3:7-18 in this week’s lectionary. “You brood of vipers!” he greets them!

     John was not a person known for his social graces. But he was a man known for his passion in calling upon people to prepare for the changes that are coming.

     In resources we might have read to prepare for worship this Sunday, Advent 3, we are called to think about the prophets of our world today and if any of them remind us of John. And the first who comes to mind is Greta Thunberg. This Swedish environmental activist is only 18 years old! And yet, she has no problem “speaking truth to power” whenever she has a chance to spread her own message. She stood giving a speech at the United Nations and she might as well have started out saying “You brood of vipers” to all those dignitaries in attendance. Among her strong words that day were the admonition: "You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”

     As with John the Baptist, young Greta feels so compelled to get her message out, that every ounce of enthusiasm and passion goes into calling upon us to take better care of our earth and not one ounce goes into the niceties of social convention. There isn’t time.

     Climate activists are the prophets of our time. And other young people such as Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban because she went to school, is a modern-day prophet and now works for the education of girls and women.

Some people have called American politician Al Gore a prophet because he was sounding the climate change warning years and years ago.

     And for John, there wasn’t much time for his message either. Jesus was on his way to turn our world upside down for the good – and he wants us all to be prepared. For the sake of our eternal lives, John wants us to be prepared.

     So, the crowds ask John: “What then should we do?” Good question. It’s a question that comes down to us through the centuries.

     “What should we do?”

     Unlike the crowds who were listening to John, we have the roadmap. We have the guide book we call the Bible. We have the benefit of the words as reported by its writers. We should know what we are to do. Just follow the words and ways of Jesus Christ.

     And we should wait. That’s one of the main themes of Advent. The waiting. We are in a time of waiting, but that doesn’t mean we do nothing else.

       We are not in a dormant “in between time.”

     There’s a story told by the famous author and philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in his 1943 essay “Being and Nothingness.” He’s waiting in a café for his friend, Pierre. And he comes to the realization that in his waiting, everything he does is done in anticipation of this one act of waiting. Sitting there, he looks at his watch, he looks up at the door continually, he glances every time he senses someone walking into the café…. Everything he does is controlled by his waiting for Pierre. That anticipated Pierre, is shaping every moment of his life at that time.

     That is exactly the way we should be living today. Every move that we make should be in anticipation of our preparation to live in God’s kingdom whether here on earth or in the life ever after that we are promised.

     We are at this very moment waiting for the light of Christ to burst forth in this world. Christ comes to us in so many different ways, and our hearts must always be prepared for him in whatever way that is. It can happen when we least expect it. It can happen in the voices and encounters with children, friends, workmates, teachers, neighbours, cherished pets or in the quiet walk in a garden, on the farm or in the woods or at the seashore. It is amazing how often we can hear the voice of God, calling to us and getting our attention to get ready … to make the path straight for the coming of Christ’s glorious presence into our lives.

      A king is about to be born and we rejoice. Because that King comes for us. That king comes to bring us love and mercy and forgiveness and compassion, and hope and peace and healing and joy.

     This is a time of year when we find ourselves wrapping up gifts. We have been given a gift already. We live with that gift every single minute of every single day. It’s just that at this time of year, we celebrate the presence of Christ with Joy!

     And so, it doesn’t do us any good if we leave that gift of Jesus all wrapped up.

      It’s no good to have a present if you leave it bound by ribbons and bows, and pretty paper. The gift must be opened to enjoy.

     John the Baptist asks us to prepare for the gift of a blessing from God through the ministry of God’s Son, sent to earth to live the human experience.

     There are gifts and then, there are gifts!

      Every one of us has been given that big, huge gift from God in the form of Jesus Christ. Let us not only unwrap it with joy this Christmas season, but let us spread the gift around to everyone we meet.

AMEN

Left, painting of St. John the Baptist, by Lynda Miller-Baker; 

Above, depiction of John the Baptist out of the workshop of El Greco.

Modern movie version of John the Baptist from jesusfilm.org

Smoothing out all our crooked paths

Just two weeks ago, I took an online seminar about John the Baptist and he was called the “under-employed” Christmas actor.

Here’s this person who probably grew up playing with Jesus as a child; was there right from the beginning of the Christmas story when he was a baby in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth; and is the chosen by God to prepare the way for Christ’s ministry in the world – even baptize our Lord – and yet – he’s never been on a Christmas card. And when was the last time you saw him as a character in the nativity?

     He sure is under-employed …

     My one John the Baptist joke is this: What do John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common? Answer: their middle name.

     If I were to ask you what pops into your mind first about him, you might remember that he called people a brood of vipers; and that his head was served to a King on a platter! I guess he doesn’t fit very well into the Christmas story we like to tell.

I mean, just look at him: (at this point, show a few photos of John the Baptist down through the years that you have found by googling his name. Point out that there is quite a difference in many of them.)


     It’s only in more modern years that John the Baptist has lost his sense of importance in the story of Jesus Christ. And undeservedly so …

     What should have happened to John? What would we have turned him into if we paid attention to him down through the years?

     Well, what if instead of Santa Claus, we had children sitting on John the Baptist’s lap in your local mall?

      His outfit would be scratchy camel hair and not as colourful – but at least it would be easier for kids to confess their sins! They might get more points with John confessing they were naughty rather than nice!

Our Christmas gatherings might include a swimming pool - because it would be very convenient to baptize people!.

     And if there was too much merriment, Instead of hearing “HO, HO, HO, MERRY CHRISTMAS,” we would all be called a brood of vipers!

     So no … John the Baptist doesn’t quite fit the happy, extravagant, glitzy, Christmases we have fashioned down through the years.

     But if you think about it, we still need to hear the message of John the Baptist in our lives today. When we realize that the true message of John the Baptizer is: “Prepare the way for Jesus in your hearts,” it brings us right back to the entire message that Christmas is supposed to be for us … peace and love and kindness and generosity and compassion.

     But first, we have to clear our hearts and minds of clutter. We spend far too much time clearing our homes of clutter … and too little time preparing our souls.

     If John were in the place of Santa Claus, he would be in the malls shouting “Prepare the way for Jesus this year! He's on his way!” and getting all kinds of attention! And we would say: “who is that weird guy?!!!”

     See, Prophets are always thought to be a bit off-kilter. And even 2000 years ago, folks wondered about a person who looked and acted like John the Baptist. Just as we do today.

     “The word of the Lord" wasn't coming from imperial Rome or from Israel's religious establishment. It wasn’t coming from someone dressed in fashionable clothes who lived in an expensive palace. Nor from a business board room, a CEO, or a politician.

      God's word to his people came from a wild and woolly man who lived in the deep of the desert, on the fringes of society rather than in its corridors of power. He was an outsider to traditional power. John the Baptist is an unlikely divine messenger and therefore, was easy to ignore.

    Why does God choose some kooky guy living in the wilderness to be a messenger of divine wisdom? Because God chooses anyone and everyone – you don’t have to be special somehow to be chosen by God to speak God’s word. That’s been quite obvious from the beginning of time and the beginning of faith in one God.

     God chooses people like you and me to do the work of Jesus Christ in the world. It doesn’t matter what we do, who we are, how rich or poor we are, or what our age – we are called to spread the message: “Prepare yourself to be spiritually ready for whatever is coming by following in the footsteps of Christ our Lord.”

     Smooth out all those hills and crooked paths in our life’s journey; and prepare space within ourselves to receive Christ into our lives. Make room for the birth of the Messiah and everything he means to this world.

     As the prophet John comes rambling out of the countryside – out of the pages and words in the Bible – into our lives – we should pay attention.

     Yes. He is wild and woolly and dresses strangely and eats bugs and seems to yell a lot and practically drowns people and says he baptizes in the name of Christ!


     And we should believe him. Why? Because in the Christmas story, he was the first to humble himself before Jesus Christ – to recognize the Messiah for who he was, and preach about his coming.

    When I was a child, my mother would tell us that one or the other of our many great-aunts was coming from the big city of Toronto to visit us. And we knew what that meant. Preparation. My mom would bake cookies all week, stock up on the tea, and she would drag the living room carpet out into the backyard on summer days and get down on her hands and knees and scrub it with soap and water. When it was dry and dragged back inside, I remember we were not allowed back into the living room until that great-aunt was in it too!

    Mom was preparing for special people. And we knew that great-aunt Chris or Janet or Mary would be allowed to step on that carpet even with her shoes on!  Because that didn’t matter to Mom. The beautifully laid out off-white carpet was her offering to honour her aunts. That’s what mattered.

     The preparations that matter in the next few weeks – and all year ‘round – are not the gifts and the food – although that’s really great! – but it’s preparing the welcome in our hearts for Jesus Christ and for all God’s people.

      John the Baptizer sends us this challenge down through the centuries.

And we say: Amen.

Hope finds a way to pierce the night sky

A meditation for Advent 1 of Year C 

based on Luke 21:25-36


"Starry Night" by V. Van Gogh, 1889

Have you ever been fortunate enough to see fresh figs growing on a tree? Beautiful, isn’t it? That’s a very reassuring parable that Luke tells us about the fig trees – be assured that the rhythm of God’s world will continue, long after we have been here….

    But first – well, take a look at this picture …(Show a picture of Starry Night by Van Gogh)

       I’m sure many of you recognize this … it’s a painting by Vincent Van Gogh called “Starry Night.” Van Gogh, by the way, was the son of a preacher and painted it in 1889. He would, no doubt, have known his Bible.

     He had a troubled life. Most notably, no one in his family except one brother, appreciated his artistic brilliance. In fact, he only sold one painting in his lifetime. And now, he is regarded as one of the best artists to ever live.

     But during his life, and especially at the end of it – he died in 1890, the year after painting this – he had a tormented soul. In fact, he was in a hospital for treatment of his depression at the time he painted this magnificent work.

        I’m no art expert myself, but scholars have discussed this painting at length – which I won’t do – but I will point out how it relates to the apocryphal Lukan scripture we just heard.

     The passage is called apocryphal because of its imagery of endings and calamities. And look - this painting is perfect to describe the Luke passage that you may have just read.

     The sky swirls with activity … there is a darkness to the sky and it appears as though a storm is coming in. Even the heavens are troubled.

     Those dark spires there in the foreground are cypress trees … and cypress trees have long been associated with cemeteries and death. So, more evidence of a troubled earth – and more than likely, a troubled life.

    And down in the corner, nestled among trees and hills are the straight-lines of a town … very different in style than the swirling of the heavens.

     And look at the church – just as the branches of the cedars reach up high to the heavens, so does the steeple of the church reach towards God.

     But of course, the way the painting is constructed always takes our eyes up to the sky – that turbulent sky that must have mirrored Van Gogh’s inner torment at the time.

     And those stars that pierce the darkness of the night? They convey strong feelings of hope. Despite his furious painting of 2,000 works in his lifetime, his strained relationships with family and lack of an income from his art, Van Gogh still had hope and faith. In 1888, He wrote a letter in which he described looking out into the sky which he called: “a great starlit vault of heaven… one can only call God.”

     This painting gets me really excited every time I look at it. It is brilliant. Here we have what the writer Luke describes when he says there will be signs in the moon and the stars and on earth. There will be distress among nations caused by the roaring of the sea and waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.

     This is something we have all felt … Van Gogh felt it 150 years ago … fear and foreboding … and we feel it today …. What about the folks in the flooded parts of BC? How anxious they must feel when they hear the weather forecasting more rain.

What about our neighbours in Ingonish, Cape Breton, and other parts in that province who also fear the coming of more rain, especially those who are presently cut off from medical services for a week or more?

    But, for heaven’s sake!  What is this passage doing in our Christian lectionary at the beginning of Advent? It doesn’t seem to fit with the way many of us feel, - with the anticipation and the glitter and colours and sounds of Christmas all around us here in Pictou County. This is such a pretty time of the year – especially in the darkness when Christmas lights pierce through the cold.

     But this text sets a different tone. Where’s the sweet baby Jesus that comes to us on Christmas cards? You know, that baby we put out in our nativity scenes?  (Show a lovely Christmas card with a nativity scene)

     There he is …. That’s better … the true meaning of Christmas. That makes us feel better, doesn’t it.

     Well … Luke is getting to this picture. He’s giving us the first century form of good news/bad news. But, he’s giving us the bad news first. He just wants to give us a warning before he dumps all kinds of good stuff about the faithfulness and the power of our Lord Jesus Christ on us.

     Luke first tells us to prepare. We are to be on guard, scripture says – for changes are in the works. The Son of Man is coming in all his power and glory. Redemption is on its way – if we are ready.

     Luke warns us that distressing things will happen. In fact, these things have happened, are happening and will still happen. But to overcome the fear among those of us who listen and hear the message; Jesus does what he does best – he tells us a parable. He says, look at the fig tree and all the trees – and we think of our maples and oak and poplar –when they begin to sprout leaves, we know that God is with us.

    The promise from God of constant renewal, plays out all around us – always and forever.

     So be on guard, Jesus says – to try and avoid the worries and pitfalls of this life so that the coming of the Lord doesn’t catch you unexpectedly. Be alert, he says, so that you can have strength to escape all the bad stuff that will come our way in the course of a lifetime.

     Look once again at Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. When he painted it, it may have come from inside his emotions at the time.

     But today, there will be those among us who see the sky and all that swirling blue and black and grey as what is going on outside our church building today in shopping centres and downtowns all across the country. The turbulence may very well be going on in people’s homes as well. By Dec. 25, many people will be overwhelmed, disappointed, angry and even lonely. They will feel inside the way this picture looks.

     Still, there’s beauty in this art. There is power. What if the lonely and disappointed among us could find a way to focus on the stars and the moon. Points of light that shine through the darkness… hope. Hope and truth.

     Despite some frightening images, that Advent text from Luke, doesn’t offer fear and damnation, as much as it offers hope and expectation. Anticipation even.

     We are treated to vivid word images of life’s excitements, perils, challenges - opportunities – and then of God’s promise of new life – the promise of newness is always being given to us no matter what turbulence we go through. A wonderful gift.

     God in Christ is coming because God loves us – we have a Creator who designed us out of love and will never harm us.

We are called to be on alert for those things like greed, and violence and misplaced priorities. We are to be on alert to help others in the struggle against poverty and famine, homelessness and addictions and good heavens – against apathy.

Our broken and our hurting world – and the broken parts of ourselves - need Christ to be present – and we need to take the time in Advent to prepare to receive him. The good news of Advent is not simply that Christ is approaching, but that his coming means we can hope – despite all that is wrong in our lives and in our world.

     Just as the budding leaves on the fig tree offer hope in late winter that life is about to spring forth in all its glory again in a few months – so the Word in Jesus - inspired by God – promises us new life.

     Advent brings the promise of something new and something good. It promises the birth of a baby who brings us Hope among many other gifts.

     Trust in God. Trust in the ways of God and that all will be well. Maybe not in the way we expect it – but God’s ways are mysterious and good. And that’s a promise.

     Thanks be to our loving God. Amen.

A meditation based on 

John 18:33-37

“My kingdom is not from this world,” says Jesus. No kidding. That seems pretty obvious when we contrast today’s kingdoms on earth with the vision of God’s kingdom.

     Yet, working for Jesus’ kingdom, praying for “thy kingdom come,” as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, seems difficult when it seems so far away from the reality that we know and in which we live. The kingdoms of our world could hardly be more opposite than the kingdom Jesus has in mind.

     It’s complicated. And yet, some folks have found a way to help it make sense in our minds – It reminds me of a story I heard about a deep south Baptist church service on TV. The church minister was using a call and response effect during worship. He shouted out: “Who is Jesus?”

     And the choir responded: “King of kings and Lord Almighty!”

     Then, a little girl sang in a really soft voice: “Poor little Mary’s boy.” Back and forth they sang: KING OF KINGS, and softly: “Poor little Mary’s boy.

     That was good theology….that particular answer to the question: Who is Jesus? – and the answer: “King of Kings” cannot be the answer without also seeing “poor little Mary’s boy.”

     The images clash. One is big and powerful, the other small and poor. This is the dissonance of Reign of Christ Sunday.

Jesus took the word King, and turned that word on its head. This king is in handcuffs, standing before Pontius Pilate who has the power to condemn him to death or set him free.

     And soon the religious leaders would shout, “We have no king but the emperor!” There is dissonance on this day and in this text.

     So, it appears that Pilate wanted to know - What kind of king is Jesus?

     He needs to know because “king” is a political term, and Pilate is a political person. And so, he felt threatened by this Jesus, who he saw as a populist rival.

     One of my textbooks told the story about an Anglican priest from South Africa who wrote about what it was like to believe Jesus was King during the days of apartheid.

     “Our whole congregation was arrested,” he said, “for refusing to obey the government.” The Anglican priest said his church chose to follow in the way of Jesus. And they were punished for it.

     The priest wrote that all 240 members of the congregation were arrested and put in jail — from babies to a 90-year-old man.       That’s modern day Christian persecution. That’s not that long ago …

     The priest himself was imprisoned for a year – all because his church claimed that they would follow Jesus Christ as their King and fight against apartheid.

     And we wonder – what would we do? Would we cave to avoid imprisonment if faced with choosing between our government or our faith?

     What is our truth?

     And isn’t that what Pilate asked Jesus? “What is truth?”

     Truth was the person standing before Pilate.

     Think a moment – consider your life – what is your greatest challenge? Our greatest challenge will be different from person to person.

     On our list – for I’m sure we all have a list of challenges – should be to live as a Christian in this world today. Because we’re living in a world that challenges our faith.

     The greatest challenge today is not to live like the rest of this world, but to live with conviction concerning our Christian faith.

     It was a challenge when Jesus was on the earth. It has been a challenge for followers of Jesus until the present day.

     It was a challenge for the Epistle-writer Paul – who at first persecuted and even killed Christians, and then he himself was challenged when he began to live as a follower.

     Paul put his trust in a God who revealed God-self to Paul –

     Here on earth, in our time, we put our confidence and trust in those things that we can see, feel and touch. These are tangible things. And our minds can make sense of them.

     But, when Jesus taught about his kingdom, he taught that it is something we cannot see with our own eyes. That is our challenge.

     And Paul puts the challenge this way: "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).

     Our earthly kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, dictators and despots will always come and go – but Our God and God’s kingdom will last forever.

     A few years ago, I was listening to CBCs Quirks and Quarks about really huge scientific advances into the universe – well – our little bit of the universe – we know so many things about our world and the planets in our solar system – we know now the measurements of the earth’s core; and we have exciting things going on with Mars – but that doesn’t make us rulers over the universe … not even close ….

     The One who created it still reigns supreme …

      And that should give us comfort. That should make us not be afraid of what is to come, because God is still in control. There is no greater goodness than our God.

     Our challenge then, is not to strive for and look to the things here on earth that could lead us astray from doing God’s work … but we should fix our hearts on that which cannot be seen--God’s kingdom – and its promises of Grace and Glory.

     So, Pilate asks: Who is Jesus? And today, with the benefit of 2000 years of wisdom, we can answer him:

     We can tell Pilate that Jesus is composed of mystery …. And of truth …

In chemistry, He turned water to wine;

In biology, He was born without the normal conception;

In physics, He disproved the law of gravity when he ascended into heaven;

In economics, He disproved the law of diminishing return by feeding more than 5000 people with two fish & five loaves of bread;

In medicine, He cured the sick and blind without administering a single dose of drugs;

In history, He is the Beginning and the End;

In government, He said that He shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace;

In religion, He said no one comes to the Father except through Him;

Jesus had no servants, yet they called Him Master;

Had no degree, yet they called Him Teacher;

Had no medicines, yet they called Him Healer;

He had no army, yet kings feared Him;

He won no military battles, yet He conquered the world;

He committed no crime, yet they crucified Him;

He was buried in a tomb, yet Jesus Christ lives today!!!

     Thanks be to God our true eternal King. Amen.

No one is a cellophane person

Meditation based on Mark 12:38-44

Do you ever sit and people-watch at Tim Hortons or StarBucks or any other coffee shop? Or walk in the Mall?

Some people we see. We notice them as we walk thro​ugh the Mall, or sit having a coffee with a friend. We immediately see the ones we recognize and we wave and smile at them. We might have a short conversation with them just to find out how they’re doing. That’s always a nice thing to do.

     But did you ever think about the people you don’t see? For example, how many times do you or I walk past the guy panhandling for change right outside the door of the coffee shops? Or the local bank?

     We’re too busy with our own lives. We have biases we don’t want to be confronted with. And - no one carries real money anymore – certainly not a pocketful of change. Not any more.

  There are many people who are walked past in society because no one is seeing them. Life is less complicated for us if we act like we don’t see them.

     And yet, we all know that there are circumstances and situations in life that lead some of God’s children into very lonely places. So, consciously or subconsciously, we walk past someone in need and think: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

     There’s a musical called “Chicago.” You can still see it as a stage show or in movie form, and in that movie there’s a song: “Mr. Cellophane”. (If you have audio-visual equipment, this can be found on YouTube. Joel Grey does a version, and Ben Vereen does one with The Muppets.)

     The people we don’t see as a society can be called “Mr. Cellophane.” These are some of the lyrics:

          “Everyone gets noticed now and then,

               Unless that person is invisible, inconsequential me,

                    Cuz you can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I’m there.”

     Thinking back to the widows in this week’s lectionary (both the one in the Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading- Mark 12 and Ruth 3), we wonder if that’s how they felt? In their society, they must have felt so invisible and inconsequential.

     Historically, a woman’s only worth was through their husbands, brothers and sons. And in this Bible story about the generosity of the widow in Mark 12, we assume the woman had no other family who could take her in. She would have been powerless, unable to contribute much to society, in material ways. So this meant she was invisible and prey to anyone who would take advantage of her. Her life would not have been easy.

     As we read this scripture in Mark, we are told that Jesus is sitting just outside the temple treasury, watching folks give their alms. He saw the widow – who he knew had just been listening to his teachings.

     She believed if she gave all she had, God would give it back. That’s faith … it was the good faith that exists in a good person.

     The widow knew that her church money was supposed to be given to the widows, the ill, the immigrants, the orphaned children … authorities were supposed to distribute these funds because the Lord demanded it.

     That’s the way it was supposed to be. But we all know that there’s the way things are supposed to be – and that often runs up against the way things really are. The church leaders, we are told, are sometimes hypocrites. Their robes and the trappings of their office in life hide the coldness of their hearts.

     As Jesus watched, he knew that the widow was familiar with how the synagogue and its leaders were supposed to behave. And he knew that the religious authorities were aware of what was expected of them. But Jesus also knew that the widow didn't know that the authorities embezzled the funds to buy themselves beautiful robes. They didn’t care about the poor. Because the poor were powerless; and therefore, of no consequence – they were the cellophane people of her time.

     So, Jesus watched as she handed her only wealth over to the crooked authorities of the church. She handed it all over in faith that good things would happen not only for herself, but for others in her situation.

     And no one else noticed that she gave her all. But Jesus saw her, and he loved her for it. Her faith was greater than many of those who walked around in the robes of the clergy and the political leaders.

     Do you wish you were an example of that kind of faith? We have been told time and time again in scripture that we are called to be generous, to be kind, to take care of those who have less than we do. So … we know what we need to do.

     Sometimes we feel paralyzed by our own thoughts or our needs. We go through periods when we don’t feel as if we have enough: enough money to share; enough talent or skill to help; enough strength or energy to do for others when we can’t do for ourselves.

     Oh… I know! I’ve been there!

       But what if … what if we decided to give out of our abundance instead of out of our scarcity? Do you think the widow in the scripture story thought: “I only have a few coins in my pocket. I have nothing to give.” Or did she think: “Wow” This is great! I have a few coins in my pocket and I can give them so someone else is helped.”

     We are the coins in her pocket. Whatever it is we have or we can do … it can gleam like gold! It can be dumped into our community’s large gathering pot and it can make a difference.

     We can gleam and glitter and clink and thump and be heard and seen if we want to!

     Each and every person has something they can give or do whenever the time of need arises for another person. We are the coins and we can live as the hands and feet of God for other people.

     Now, we’re never told what happened to the widow. If we were writing a Hollywood movie, she would somehow be rewarded for her generosity by some strike of good luck that leaves her with a jackpot!!

     We don’t know. We’re not told that she gained anything else than the satisfaction of following the teachings of Jesus Christ.

But we are told that Christ knew what she did. I don’t know about you, but anything I can do that gets God’s approval is a win in my books! I already know that I’m loved more than anything I can imagine by my Creator – so making God extra happy with me is very satisfying and comforting.

     The Lord, our Saviour, is really the One who counts.

     People nobody notices are all around us and we look right through them. But God doesn’t.

     Jesus knows that if we stop walking past the invisible, we can serve creation, just as God desires us to do.

     In scripture, we come to learn firstly, that Jesus praises the SACRIFICIAL GENEROSITY of the poor widow…and secondly, that Jesus laments that corruption, greed, and apathy exists in God’s otherwise good world.

     And finally, and most importantly - -there are people who others might consider inconsequential – there are people who consider themselves of little consequence as they pass through this life - so, let me assure you, that no one is inconsequential to the power we call God.

     We are – none of us - ever cellophane people. We shouldn’t look through anyone.

     Because all of us are needed, we are called, and we are loved.

     Thanks be to God, Amen.

Love God,

Love Others

A meditation on Mark 12:28-34

                    Pentecost 23

I am an avid reader of newspapers. I love them. Oh yes, they are slower to get the news out than the TV or social media. But, for the most part, they are more reliable. And the best thing about newspapers is that you can get more local stuff than the TV that tends to focus on world events or the “BIG” stories.

     And so, I will find myself reading local news about such things as crime in the area. And, unfortunately, I occasionally run across a story about charges with a familiar name in them. Now – these are charges for the most part – and so my background as a former court reporter reminds me that people are always treated as innocent until proven guilty. But with the familiar surnames of the accused, I can’t help but wonder if they are related to the people I know.

     And I say a prayer. I pray that the family, which must be going through great turmoil right now, find comfort in friends and family who will come in to support them. Stuff happens in families that is not always good. We all know that. And as Christians, we remember that Jesus loved the prisoners too. After justice is seen to be done, even the guilty need to be cared for.

     Usually these days, its drugs or thefts that get people into trouble and their names in the local paper. Both are ills of our society that have affected individuals. Drugs, because people have turned to them as their form of comfort or escape, and theft because we live in a society where people have material needs that are not being met. In both cases, that old sin – greed - is raising its ugly head. You can make a lot of money out of drugs and thievery. The temptation is far too much for some people, and they stray from the way God wants all of us to lead our lives.

     It breaks my heart. Crime is really a hard life to live. Such lives are filled with too many lies, lost relationships, fears of being caught – and for some, guilt. What a way to live! It’s bad for them and it’s bad for us – the rest of society who would rather see them contributing to their own well-being and to the advancement and well-being of their communities.

     And of course, there are victims. There are always victims. And our collective hearts break for them with each wrong done to people.

     But my ultimate disappointment is the destruction of people’s souls when they live in lives that include bad deeds.

     Now, as we live in a secular society, a lot of people wouldn’t put things this way, but a Christian will understand that whenever you put anything above and beyond the One who created us and loves us, then you’re asking for trouble in this world.

Jesus tells us through the historical writings of Mark: “the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.”

     The Lord is One. We are called not to worship or put anything else before the One who created us and the universe. We are not to put our own selfish or greedy wants above the love of God and others around us. We are called to love and worship God with all our soul, our mind, our strength and our hearts. And we are called to love other people in the same way we would want to be loved ourselves.

     To do so, is to receive the gift of God’s blessings in all their fullness. To do otherwise is just courting with disaster.

     We are told, not for the first time, to love God and to love neighbour. We heard it clearly in the ancient text of Deuteronomy, and here it is again in the Gospels. Jesus may have changed a few things in his teachings of what God wants, but this will never change. And when we hurt our neighbour, we injure God as well. When we hurt our neighbour, we injure ourselves too.

       If you were reading the Hebrews 9:11-14 passage this week as part of your lectionary studies, you will have seen that Jesus Christ came to us as the “high priest of the good things that are now already here …” That is some tremendous acknowledgement of who he is. All the money and gold on earth, all the wealth of any kind, cannot compare to the splendid richness of the blessing of Christ and his teachings of the Creator.

     It has been said time and time again: Jesus Christ is all we really need. All else will fall into place. It is hard to believe these words if you are in the midst of turmoil right now. You may cry out as many, many others have: “Where is God?” But rest assured that God is with you, suffering with you, and wanting good things for you. Troubled times seem to last so long for so many of us.

     But with patience, with strength and wisdom, one day we can look back and realize that when we put God first in our lives and are kind to those around us, we will finally feel the presence and mercy and compassion of God in our lives.

     How does someone put God first in their life? It is not an instantaneous practice. It is a daily challenge to follow the ways of the Lord and to strive to build others up. We can work inside ourselves by starting a morning ritual of prayer or conversation with God. But, it also takes learning how to walk among others in ways that are kind.

     We should try not to harm others, while at the same time, go through life not harming ourselves either. Nor are we meant to be harmed by anyone else.

     Makes life sound like a balancing act on a high-wire, doesn’t it? Just remember that while you’re on that high-wire, God is with you, urging you on and always offering you the balance you need.


Amen.

Appearance to his Disciples, by Ed De Guzman

Ambitious

for the Living

Christ

A meditation based on Mark 10:35-45

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of asking someone to do something, expecting a positive response. “Will you go to the store for me?” You’re not asking with the expectation of a negative response. You’re asking with about 70% of hope that the other person will do it!

     Still … there’s that 30% chance that we don’t know what the answer will be.

     We live in a world where we keep hearing those old adages such as: “Knock and the door will be opened.” Or how about this one right out of Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”

     That’s the positive way we Christians like to lead our lives! It all sounds so good. And so, this week’s reading out of Mark is rather interesting. James and John have had a conversation between themselves and come up with a splendid idea! Of all the disciples and fans and hangers-on following Jesus on his travels, they think they should be the ones who sit on either side of him in Glory – in the Kingdom of Heaven.

     Personally, I think their parents - father, Zebedee and the un-named mother – (“natch”) - have spoiled these two kids. They are certainly not lacking in confidence when they approach Jesus and assertively blurt out: “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.”

    Well, I don’t know about you, but that would make my heart stop and my stomach churn a bit if someone approached me like that! Who knows what the Lord was thinking inside his head and heart (except we can assume was thinking: “you entitled jerks! Go ahead – make my day!”) Yet, in typical Lord-fashion, he kept his cool and simply asked the two what it was they wanted.

     And they reply: “In your glory, let one of us sit on your right and the other on your left.” In other words, “let the two of us bask in your glory in the afterlife. There are only two spots where that can happen – and we want those spots.”

     And Jesus answers: “You don’t know what you are asking.”

     “And anyway, it won’t be up to me.”

     Well! It’s no surprise to any of us that this leads to wholesale squabbling among all the other disciples when they hear about this request! The nerve of those guys! And we can only imagine that the others aren’t as much indignant about the nervy request, as they are trying to put their own selves in the position of sitting on the right and left hand side of the Messiah, their Lord.

     And scripture tells us they all begin to squabble among themselves.

     The disciples – not one of them – has been listening – really listening – to the teachings of Jesus Christ. How many times and how many ways does Jesus have to tell us that those who are the least will be the first?

     And now you’re saying to yourself – But I DON’T WANT to be among the least! Of course you don’t – no one does … at least, not in the way we think that word “least” means in our contemporary world.

     But really – think about it. Don’t you want to be the LEAST greedy;

     The LEAST insensitive;

            The LEAST boring;

                    The LEAST unkind; etc.

….. you get my drift, don’t you?

     Our Lord God designed and fashioned us to be special people. Every single one of us. We are born to be kind. It’s a rare person who isn’t born that way. We are born to live in community with one another because we need each other to survive.

     Now, it’s well known that ambition is highly prized in our world. It appears it was prized 2000 years ago as well. John and James had extra doses of it! But, even though it’s prized in the kingdom here on earth, God has other priorities.

     Ambition is fine, as long as it is well-placed and works to the Glory of God. We should be ambitious in our kindness, our compassion and our generosity. That’s what God wants. It’s okay to get ahead – but for goodness’ sake – make sure you bring others along with you as well!

     James and John wanted to be the ones sitting beside Jesus because of the prestige and the power it would give them. That’s ambitious. But for the wrong reasons. It would benefit themselves and only themselves.

     And elitism is not a good look on anyone.

     I have a good friend and mentor who many years ago told me that the best people to put in charge of organizations and committees is the person who runs them so that they won’t collapse if the leader has to leave suddenly. In other words, the best leaders are those who make sure other people have the skills and talents and knowledge to be just as good as they are.

And you know why?

     Because the best leaders put the wellbeing of the whole business or the whole organization or committee ahead of their own prestige.

     Isn’t that the exact kind of person you want running your company or your church or your organization? A person whose priority is others over themselves?

    We all plan to get ahead in life. But when we do, we also recognize that we didn’t do it alone. We do it with God by our side and God’s people of all shapes and sizes helping us out along the way. And, of course, hopefully, we were the same kind of person for others. The kind that supports and encourages others.

     Jesus had ambition. We know that. His ambition to share the Good News of his Lord God had him wandering for years throughout the countryside putting up with a gang of dumbledorfs! For the disciples were just like we are today – we hear the Word of Jesus Christ and don’t always understand it, or want to follow it.

     His ambition was never to be famous or have groupies and fans. That just happened because people were hungry and yearning for God's Word. And it was Jesus who could feed them with what they needed. With what we need. 

     And Christ knew where his ambition would lead him – to the Cross. Yet, he persevered. And we thank the Lord he did.

     The greatest in the eyes of the Lord are those who serve others in ways that they can. They are those who care for others, help others, and are generous with their time, their kindnesses, their words and their actions.

     And yes, often they go unnoticed by you and me. And you wonder: is anything I do worth it?

     Let me assure you with 100% certainty that God sees you. Every time you clean up after someone who had to rush off; every time you give a lonely person a phone call; every time you drive someone to the grocery store … God sees you.

     And you make the One who created and loves you, smile. And yes, that’s worth it.

     Have a great week! Amen!

Thankful for God


A Thanksgiving weekend meditation


For Oct. 11, 2021

Every single one of us has something to be thankful for. No matter how lousy our week has been the last few days, there is something we can be thankful for.

   If you’re sitting there thinking at this very moment: “My life has never been so rotten! I have nothing to be thankful for!” That’s not true. Instead, you can choose to think: “Well, in this very moment, I guess my life could be even worse. But it’s not.”

    And be thankful.

    If we were to go out and ask a dozen strangers to tell us what they’re thankful for, they could come up with something. And the most number of answers would probably focus on gratitude for friends and family. Not the material things like cars, jewelry, or cash.

      We can all live without our things. We can “make do” without most material goods as long as we have shelter and food. And should we ever find ourselves without those things, it’s our friends and family who will more than likely be the ones who swoop in and make sure we’re okay. Who are there to help us rebuild our lives … help us sustain or maintain what we have left.

    That’s what’s important in life … the relationships that we build; that we have; and that we mend. There is nothing more precious to a human being than our relationships.

     Are you a worrier? I’ll admit that I am. I plan things out ahead of time – because I want them to go well. I always want my Plan A to work out. But if it doesn’t – I have a Plan B,C, and often a D – just in case.

    Well, in Matthew 6: 25-34, he tells us to just cut it out! Stop worrying about how we’re going to get along in life and turn our attention to following and worshipping God and all else will fall into place. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But as we all know, anything worth having in life doesn’t come easy.

     And so, all of us worry. To one degree or another, we all worry. I’m not going to tell you you’re a bad Christian because you worry instead of turning ALL your burdens over to God.

     There IS a positive side to worry … worry and anxiety spur us on to action and we need to have enough concern that we take care of ourselves and others.

    We were MADE to worry – it’s in our DNA so that lions and bears don’t eat us! It comes very naturally to all of us.

     And times have changed so that we are given reasons to worry. I always remember the story out of Texas a few years ago when a woman was arrested and charged with child endangerment for letting her kids play outside. She says she was watching them from her window play in her front yard. But a neighbour didn’t see her and called the police. The Mom was put in jail for 18 hours and ended up suing both the police and her neighbour.

     The mother wasn’t too worried about her kids being outside – the neighbour was much more worried.

     Some people are worriers and others aren’t so much. And we need all kinds of people in life to keep things balanced.

There are things that we should worry about – and do something about – and then there are those things that we can do little about EXCEPT turn it all over to a Loving God. God can handle it.

     God can handle a lot of things that we worry about. And how many times do things work out versus the times they don’t work out? The fact is, things work out many more times than not. They really do. That may not be our perception, depending on whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist … but usually, all is well in the end.

     The title of today’s meditation isn’t Being Thankful TO God … it’s being thankful FOR God. We’re not passengers on this journey along for the ride with God as conductor. God wants us to work and be WITH the Creator … co-drivers with God. God wants us to be people who are in control of our lives, BUT – in control through the guidance and wisdom of our Lord. We go through this life together.

     We DO worry too much about things that we shouldn’t bother about. And Matthew tells us we should get into the habit of stopping our inner conversations and inside feelings and ideas that make us worry – and we should turn our thoughts over to God. Let Go and Let God, as the bumper sticker says.

     I forget to do that sometimes. I’m still working on it … but at least I know what I’m supposed to do – and recognition that God is in control is a huge step in relieving the stress of this life.

     We have much to be thankful for. And it comes from God. And so, today I’m thankful FOR God.

      I’m thankful for a God who says to me: are you heavy laden? Are you afraid that you won’t be fed or housed? Are you filled with fear about things which you have no control over?

     Do not fear. I will carry you. I will embrace you. I will carry your burdens.

     And so, we all say this week and all the weeks: thank you God. Thank you for loving us.

     Amen

On Communion: 

Who Gets to Receive the Goods

By Nadia Bolz-Weber - 2021

My church, House for All Sinners and Saints, was only about a year old when I took a Sunday morning phone call from a young parishioner who had gone home to Grand Rapids for a weekend visit. I could tell right away that Rachel was crying.

     “Take your time, baby,” I said.

     When she finally spoke, it was halting and in a whisper.

     “Nadia, I’m at my parent’s church and they’re serving communion and …. (her voice cracks) I’m not allowed to take it.”

     Rachel hadn’t thought much about her childhood church’s “closed table” (the term for when a church only allows certain people to take communion) until now. But she had spent a year with HFASS, a community centered around the grace of an unapologetically open table, and without even noticing it had happened, she had been changed by it. Every Sunday she had seen a woman stand at the altar table (again, she had only ever heard a male voice from the front of the church, never one with a timbre more like her own), and had heard that woman say these words: “We have an open table at House, which means that during communion, everyone without exception is invited to come forward at communion and receive the bread and wine – which for us is the body and blood of Christ. If you choose not to commune, you can come forward with your arms crossed and receive a blessing instead.”

     Jesus ate supper with more types of people than I myself would feel comfortable with.

     Sinners, tax collectors, soldiers, sex workers, fisherfolk, and even lawyers. And his LAST supper was the worst. He broke bread with his friends who were just about to abandon, deny and betray him. And yet, he took bread, blessed it, broke and gave it to these total screw-ups and said “this is my body, given for you, whenever you eat of it, do this in remembrance of me.” He instituted the Eucharist by giving bread and wine to all the people who were just about to totally screw him over.

     And then what does the church do in remembrance of him? – try and keep the “wrong people” from receiving the Lord’s Supper.

     Some would argue it is reckless to just feed all who hunger. That the Eucharist is too sacred to just hand it over to anyone. But maybe the Eucharist is too sacred to not just hand it over to anyone.

     People of good faith disagree on this issue. I know that. There are those in my own tradition who say that only the baptized should receive and that there is a catechumenal path that can be taken for those who wish to commune.

     Baptism first, THEN communion.

     As if grace only happens in a certain order.

     Over the years there have been dozens and dozens of adult baptisms at HFASS – I’d guess more than at most Lutheran churches. But having experienced the unmerited and always available grace of an open table, these folks sought out the grace of the baptismal font.

      Before hanging up with Rachel, I assured her she was loved and wanted in our community and then I said, “Would it be ok if I told some folks at church tonight about what happened?” and she said yes.

     As a small group of us stayed behind that night to stack chairs and put away paraments, I told them about Rachel’s devastation at having been denied communion at home.

     Without skipping a beat, Stuart (the church drag queen) said, “Well then we’ll just have to take her communion at the airport.”

     So at 10 pm on a Wednesday, eight of us showed up at Denver International airport with a cardboard chauffer’s sign that said “Rachel Pater” on one side, and “Child of God” on the other, and waited for her at the bottom of the escalator. We then made our way up to the interfaith prayer room, where I spoke about how on the night Jesus was betrayed he gathered with his faltering friends for a meal that tasted of freedom, and then we handed her what had been withheld days before: the body and blood of Christ.

     If we are to be judged for having gotten this wrong, let it be that we sat more at the table than fewer.

           Because it’s not our table.

                     It’s God’s.

God's team is inclusive

A meditation based on Mark 9:38-50

For Sept, 26, 2021

Have you ever noticed how many movies follow a certain story line? Take a baseball movie, for example … It’s the championship game and the best hitter on the team has been sidelined with an injury early in the game.

   Then, the second best hitter gets up to bat and hits a triple, but somewhere between second and third base he trips and down he goes with an ankle injury that takes him out of the game. And it so happens that the game is tied, it’s the last inning, and guess who’s up to bat?

   That’s right … it’s Charlie. One of the so-called worst layers on the team.

   The fans in the stands groan when Charlie grabs a bat and walks to the plate. Poor Charlie … he always strikes out …or at his best he does what I also did when I played ball - hit one of those pop flys that goes straight into the shortstop’s mitt.

   Onlookers hang their heads. They might as well go home. They’re doomed. One pitch… strike …. two pitches …. he connects but it goes back behind into the crowd. … foul ball. Third pitch … strike two …. fourth pitch… and miracle of miracles … Charlie gets a solid hit and the movie camera follows the ball as it soars over everyone’s head!

   The camera pans to Charlie who by now is rounding third base …. and then we see the ball disappear over the fence and Charlie jumps solidly on home plate to the cheers of everybody! He’s a Hero!

   And that’s what we call a storybook ending.

   We get that all the time in the movies. That’s why we watch them! They’re feel-good times. They make us want to get up every morning and get out of bed just to “win one for the Gipper.”

   There are always movies about kids at troubled schools who are totally apathetic and bitter about life, until along comes this wonderful teacher who coaches them on to win the national spelling bee – or the provincial track and field meet – or scholarships into the best universities or colleges!

   And everybody else thought they were just a school full of losers.

   And now, here we have another one of those stories about the unexpected and it’s out of the Bible:

the disciples of Jesus had just seen an outsider heal a spirit-possessed boy and bring comfort to his distraught father. After traveling with Jesus for some time now, learning from him, watching him display his power, … being sent out BY him …the disciples had tried the healing first – but had failed.

   Now - that’s a real life ending …we know that life things don’t always work out as we would like … and that’s why we love the movies so much … those happy endings are just handed to us.

   So … what about this story from Mark today about the stranger who wasn’t part of Jesus’ crowd yet is healing people in the name of Jesus. Who does HE think he is?

   The disciple John can’t wait to run and tell Jesus about this guy. And he says: ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ “He’s not one of ‘us’” is the complaint. And, what’s more, he’s doing what the disciples were unable to do. And they don’t like it; the disciples don’t like it one bit!

   “He’s not following us, Jesus! We told him to stop, but he wouldn’t! He’s just not doing it our way. He’s not one of us, Jesus! So tell him to stop, right now!”

   The disciples were all concerned about how someone *else* was behaving – not the outcome. And they expected Jesus to be as outraged as they were.

    But Jesus turned it around on them to start a discussion about how the disciples were behaving or NOT behaving. Because you see, Jesus welcomed this good being done in his name, even though it wasn’t under his OR the disciples’ control.

   The important thing to Jesus was only that good works were being done. It doesn’t matter who does them … what faith, what gender, what culture, what group …with Jesus, we transcend exclusiveness. God has not chosen us against others when it comes to goodness.

   It doesn’t matter who is doing good works with all the commitment it takes to change the world and make it a better place … the place that God envisions.

   The disciples didn’t get that. They thought there was only one way of healing .. and it was their way. They didn’t see that following Christ has a larger, more worldly meaning and way. And mostly, they didn’t like watching this outsider be successful at it!

   But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him; for he is doing good in my name.”

   You see, in Jesus’s world, there is very little that is “either/or.” There is mostly “and/and.” Someone else can heal and comfort in their way AND so can we.

   There’s no threat in what Jesus says. He says simply that ALL who work in the way of God have the potential to be FOR the kingdom of God. And that applies to everyone.

   That is inclusion of everyone who does good works in the world. And the rest of us are not supposed to get in the way because of our jealousies or bitterness.

    That’s the best way we can glorify and please our Creator.

   Sometimes we’re like the disciples. We think we know best. Our way is best. We want others to follow Jesus in the same way we do. We’re suspicious of difference.

   We want every Christian to be like us, to look like us, to think like us, to act like us. That’s where our comfort zone is, isn’t it? The temptation is to only relate to and welcome those who are like us.

   But Jesus is having none of that. He never behaved in ways that were “either/or.”

   In today’s story from Mark, there was plenty of room for the stranger to heal others in the name of Christ.

    What about Charlie? Remember Charlie … the hero of the baseball game? What if he didn’t hit that last home run. What if he had struck out … again.

   Because let’s get real. The chances are… given his track record … that he would have struck or fouled out. Now what kind of movie would it have been if everyone just hung their heads, grabbed their equipment, grumbled or swore at Charlie and went home. Not much of a movie ending.

    I’m going to digress for a moment here … do you remember that last sentence in Chapter Mark’s Chapter 9? He says: “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.”

   What’s that salt thing about? Salt in Biblical times was precious!!! There was no such thing as refrigeration and so salt was used to preserve everything and to purify everything. It was strong and it was pure and it was good and it was completely and totally irreplaceable.

    Does that sound like Charlie? Not to us it doesn’t!!!

   But what ending would God put on the baseball movie? ….This is the God who taught that the last shall be first. That to be the greatest … you must become the least.

   God would be standing right beside Charlie – with Charlie - when he swung and missed for the third time. And God’s team would have run out of the dugout and swarmed him and surrounded him with love and support and encouragement. God’s team members would have told Charlie … “That’s okay brother … there’s always tomorrow…there’s always next time.”

    And then, they would have hoisted Charlie on their shoulders and they would have carried him off to the local pub where his beer would have been free.

   Now, that’s another movie ending, isn’t it? But the truth is that really, we live constantly in the in-between area of make-believe here on earth and the hopes of heaven for us.

   We love winners, don’t we? We love them so much, that we’re willing to pay them $100 million to play basketball or hockey. Or we’ll buy a horse that’s really fast for $10 million … that’s how much we love winners.

   Well, God loves winners too … and the wonderful thing is, that to God … we are all winners…every one of us.

    And what are we worth? We’re worth a heaven-full of salt … because that’s God’s favourite flavour … the saltiness of commitment to Christ … and that’s priceless.

    Thanks be to God. Amen.

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.


" 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.

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. 

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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