An important part of our Worship service is the proclamation of the Word of God. It is very bold to claim that the words of our Minister are the Word of God. Yet the claim isn't being made of spoken words but of the ongoing dialogue of the Community of Faith. Sometimes the Sunday Sermon will be just what an individual or the whole Community needs to hear. Sometimes the Sermon is only one small piece of the Word for that moment.
We believe that the Sermon is a dialogue between the preacher, the listeners, and the Scripture. We each bring our own life experiences to the message to be inspired, challenged, or healed. It is the work of God's Holy Spirit to take words from the pulpit, and the thoughts of our hearts, and transform them collectively into the Living Word of God.
Sermons are always contextual, to the time and place, however, the words alone may also bring meaning to a reader. Below are some of the sermons from past worship services. They will be updated occasionally but not necessarily on a weekly basis. I will post a Sermon that anyone asks for on Sunday morning or later by email.
Please disregard any typos or foolish grammatical errors - a letter perfect for reading is not my goal for Sunday morning.
Not Seeing is Believing.
April 23rd 2017
I am not a gardener but there are a few things I have observed about the mystery of Gardens. I know, for instance, to have beautiful tulips and daffodils in the Spring you have to plant the bulbs in the Fall. I have done this once with success. Contrary to what seems reasonable to me, a daffodil bulb is buried up to 6 to 8 inches deep in the soil. I know this because I was given very specific instructions by my Father-in-Law. I have no understanding of why, but he also told me to put some bone meal in the bottom of the hole. It’s all a mystery, but in the Springtime, up came the daffodils. Maybe this is why daffodils, like other Springtime flowers, are often considered a symbol of new life and resurrection. The Bible uses this metaphor as well: “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot be re-born to become the stock of wheat and produce more grain.” Until the seed begins to fall apart and break down, new life cannot begin. All this mystery of life, from the dying of the seed, happens in the darkness of warm, moist soil. It is unseen beneath the soil and inside the seed.
I would like to change the title of the sermon from “not seeing is believing” to “not seeing is faithing.” I wish to do this because belief and faith are different things or at least I wish to make a distinction for the sake of our spiritual journeys. Thomas begins the story we read from the Gospel of John in disbelief and he ends the story in Faithfulness. This is the last scene of the Gospel and repeats the powerful message of spiritual seeing that we find throughout the story. Jesus tells the blind man that he can see and tells the seeing faith leaders that they are blind. The wise teacher, Nicodemus, comes to Jesus in the dark and does not understand, but the simple folks follow Jesus in the light. The gospel writer contrasts darkness with light, blindness with sight, and things of heaven with things of the Earth. In this final scene, Jesus says: "Be not without faith but be faithful." Then he contrasts Thomas and the others having faith because they have seen the blessing of those who have faith but haven’t seen it. Those like us. These are the final words of Jesus in the Gospel. Chapter 21 continues the story as an add-on by a transcriber at a later date. The original writer wants us to have faith even though we haven’t seen with our own physical eyes the risen Christ. That is the point of the story and its' constant contrasts.
The Gospel ends with a closing comment: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his Disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to have faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through faithfulness you may have life in his name.” I have purposely changed the translations choice of Belief to Faith and Faithfulness. It is not so much a problem in the original Greek but in English and other modern languages, the word choice is significant. Belief implies that you hold something to be true whereas faith implies you trust that something is true. In our liturgy for making new members of this Congregation, we have Statements of Faith, and we invite people to respond with “with God as my helper.” The question is not “do you believe” but “do you have faith.” We are not seeking proof of belief or of transformation. We don’t need to see to have faith in each other or in God. Faith doesn’t ask for proof. As we make a commitment to one another, the faith we seek in each other, we hold with God’s help. The Gospel provides us with a written witness of the signs to give us faith. The invitation is that we too know of signs to give faith in our own lives in our own world. We have faith in God as our helper.
The other way I think we can contrast faith and belief is how we respond to the world around us. In fact, our minds will play tricks on us. The pictures of the two lines on the screen are a well-known experiment in psychology. It is a test of perception and knowledge. When we see the two lines with the arrows and reverse arrows we believe the lines are of different lengths. The reality is different.
These lines are the same length. Do you believe me? Look at the pictures on the side.
What we perceived to be true isn’t always true.
Seeing the lines doesn’t help us to believe that the lines are in fact the same length. We might be like Thomas and say, "Unless I measure them myself with a ruler I will not believe.” Even when you know the lines are the same length, you will still struggle to hold on to that belief. Yet have faith in your knowledge that the lines are the same length. This is the nature of the difference between Faith and Belief. Belief demands assurance on an ongoing basis. It demands that you see this truth all the time. Faith allows you to know a truth without the constant reassurance of proof.
We are a Resurrection people. On Easter Sunday, we speak the words of our faith: “He is Risen” and “He is Risen indeed.” We say these words, not because we have seen Jesus rise, or because we have some other “proof.” We say these words because we have faith and that faith comes to our hearts as a gift from God. Faith is a not skill. Faith is not an intellectual activity. Faith is not a set of statements of belief. Faith is our trust in possibilities. Faith is our hope. Faith is our willingness to live with doubt. Faith is life.
The seed I plant in the dark soil in the spring grows without my help. I have to trust the way of seeds and growth that a healthy plant will arise from the soil. It is a mystery to me. In 2005, a botanist in Israel planted a 2000-year-old palm tree seed. It grew. More recently Russian scientists planted 32,000-year-old seeds found in the Siberian permafrost. It grew into a flowering plant. Seeds grow. It is a mystery. Christ rose. It is a mystery. We rise with Christ. It is a mystery. We have no proof to confirm our belief - just hope to feed our faith that is growing in the dark, moist soil of our shared love for God and one another, under the warmth of God’s helping sunlight. Amen.
Sermon Palm Sunday, April 9th, 2017
Glory and Justice
It is always exciting to be part of a parade or party. The celebration is always the part that is the most fun. This event, described in the Gospels, is full of symbolism and provocative intention. Jesus has his disciples fetch a humble donkey to ride into the city. It means something. He didn’t enter the city on a warhorse or in a chariot, but on a humble beast of burden. To say that Jesus was provocative in doing this is an understatement because the tradition of the time was that the Messiah would enter on the day of the week of Passover through the beautiful gate - the pilgrim’s gate. This is Jesus saying I am the King and it doesn’t end there. The people singing while entering the city are pilgrims from the countryside. And the people complaining about the spectacle are city folk. In those ancient days, the city folk and the country folk distrusted one another. The city dwellers ask the crowd, “Who is this?” They answer, “This is Jesus. He comes from Nazareth.” He is one of ours. The party is exciting when the host is dancing to your song and you are invited to the celebration. It is not so much fun when you discover your invitation doesn’t get you into the party. The party doesn’t end at the gate. Jesus and the country folks walk into the outer court of the temple. Jesus is surrounded by the jubilant celebrating crowd. Maybe he sees a Galilean neighbour pulling out his few Roman coins to exchange for temple coins. The temple rule was that your offering could not be made with Roman coins because they had an image of the emperor. Jesus sees the large sack of coins the money exchangers have set aside. He sees the animals for sale for the temple sacrifice. He hears the cry of the traders offering the best animals at the best price. A lamb that cost a few day's wages in Galilee costs four months' wages in the temple court. Meanwhile, at the side, there are men and women trying to pray. The children are still singing, and with all the noise, there is grumbling. “I can’t even afford a dove to sacrifice.”...“My temple offering is tiny because most of the money was kept by the money exchangers.” ...“We are taxed by Harod, taxed by the Romans, taxed by the temple, and then the money exchangers take a share as well.” Jesus calmly walks up the nearest table and throws it over. The doves are set free; the chairs of the sellers are tossed. He chases them out of the court. There is chaos and then he stops and there is silence. He speaks in a loud whisper, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of thieves.” Then the party really starts. People are celebrating. The children are running about the temple court singing and cheering. Jesus is healing the people. The temple authorities are angry. But what can they say about the healings? Not much! However, the children should be stopped from singing their nonsense about the Messiah. “Do you hear what the children are saying?”, they ask Jesus. Can you hear the joy and laughter in his answer?" “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies, I’ll furnish a place of praise'?” Let them sing. Let them dance. Let them celebrate. Justice has come. The Glory has no meaning unless it comes with Justice. A king is of no use to the people if justice isn’t part of the plan. Sometimes we get our understanding of Jesus stuck at the Temple Gate. We like the parade and celebration. The welcome of the new leader is always the best part. Like an election, victory the next day is awesome, but later on, the hard work of political compromise begins and the celebration loses its glamour. If we leave Jesus outside the gate, we miss the overturning of the system of injustice. We need to understand that our faith calls us to challenge injustice and then the real celebrating can begin. However, justice for the people doesn’t mean the destruction of others. It doesn’t mean injustice for others. The next day, Jesus returns to Jerusalem and debates the temple leaders and authorities. There are questions about the nature of the resurrection. They challenge him about paying taxes. He teaches about justice and fairness. He gives a “not so subtle” story about the important people rejecting God’s Messiah. And near the end of the day of teaching and debating, he reminds them all of the foundational wisdom of the Jewish tradition. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Justice means little if it is motivated by hate or revenge. Love your enemy Jesus tells us. Love your neighbour. Justice becomes only retribution or revenge if it is not partnered with love for both the oppressed and the oppressor. We believe in a God of justice. In our creed, as we recited earlier, we made a statement about resisting evil and seeking justice but first, we speak of loving and serving others. There can be no disconnection between love and justice. Justice without love is temporary and soon lost to the next crisis. Without love, nothing changes. Today’s injustice and oppression in Palestine are a direct result of justice without love. After the War in Europe in the 1940s, and the horrors perpetrated on the Jewish population of Europe by the Nazis, justice for the Jewish people came not from love. Justice was the symbolic creation of the state of Israel and created a new injustice in others. Love required acceptance of complicit guilt in centuries of anti-Semitism and the oppression of the Jewish population of Europe. Love required true acceptance of the neighbours, of the other. Love meant asking for forgiveness and not riding the warhorse,but rather in our power and glory, entering the presence of God on the humble donkey. We ask for justice in the world and God promises Justice will come and pleads that we love, so Justice can become the way of the world. Let’s bring this right today. What kind of world do we want Penelope to grow up in? It is so easy to speak of justice for people in places far away. Hebron and Jerusalem, Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, Tibet, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or even North Dakota or in our First Nations Communities. All these places are removed from our immediate lives. Maybe in our lives, we can name injustices, but often they are small compared to the horrors in many other parts of the world. It is like comparing our awful winter weather to the 70 cm of snow that fell on the Maritimes recently. Yet injustice and suffering are part of our world as well. Banks sell loans and investments for their benefit, not for the customers. Products are designed to wear out. Cell phone rates are higher than necessary. Banks relish in high profits while laying off workers. CEOs get bonuses while companies lose money and lay off workers. Public schools are underfunded while being required to provide more services yet private schools receive public money. First Nations Communities are underfunded or underserved. Homeless people on our streets are fighting addictions and mental health issues. Our continued addiction to energy consumption as a society is harming the Earth. Maybe you don’t agree with me that all these are injustices. But often when two individuals disagree, it is about competing injustices or the implied expectation of having one person or group give up something to end the injustice. Humility in our cry for justice and love in our actions towards others will create a world of blessings for Penelope and for ourselves. Love demands injustice ends and love demands that we all share in the cost and work of justice. Love the land, love the people, love the children, love the neighbour, love the sick, and love the addicted, love over power, love over wealth, love over social status, and love over more material possessions. Love demands sharing, and love insists on acceptance of others, of differences, of strangeness, We need to have a love for ourselves, love for your sister, love for your brother, love for your friend, love for the stranger, love for the child making noise, love for the elder needing help, love for the poor, love for the rich, love for all of God’s creation. The parade and party are joyful only because of the expectation of justice to come. Justice is real only because love is the motivation. This story continues with the next step in the lesson about justice. Justice comes with the sacrifice of personal power. Jesus overturning the tables leads directly to the challenges and eventually to his death. The true and lasting justice this story offers is that the people pushed to the edges and out of the presence of God as represented by the temple, are welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus proclaims. Without his willingness to give up his all for the sake of justice for the people, his message has no value and no integrity. Today’s story leads to the next step of the journey and each step is taken in love and hope.