Monday, 24 June 2019

The Second Sunday after Pentecost ----- 23 June 2019




Luke 8:26-39
26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me"— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. 32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. 34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
§  Our Gospel passage is packed with things to preach about. The possessed man… the name “Legion”… the herd of pigs… even Jesus’ mercy on the horde of demons. What strikes me most right now is the fear that Jesus’ presence caused in the people of the country of the Gerasenes.
§  What did they have to be afraid of? After all, Jesus cast the demons out of the naked man who had been living in the wild lands and the tombs, who had broken the chains that the people put around him, who ran around screaming. Were they afraid of the power that exorcised the demons and allowed them to enter the herd of pigs? Were they afraid of losing money because all the pigs jumped into the lake and drowned?
§  Or were they afraid because Jesus changed things? Maybe “the man who had demons” was a scapegoat, since compared to him, everybody else was pretty good. Now that he was healed, calm, and clothed, evil must find a home somewhere else. Now that he was healed, they’d have to take a good, long look at themselves. Just what they wanted to do, I’m sure. Why am I sure? Because I avoid taking that good, long, hard look at myself.
§  I’d much prefer that the evil I see around me had nothing to do with me and that it lived, naked and screaming, in a graveyard or out in the woods. Or maybe in a herd of pigs I can watch run into the lake.
§  Instead I have to look at myself, although – in the end - it would be better if I looked at Jesus and looked to Jesus. It is in him that all the mercy, grace, and power of God resides and can be found.
§  It seem that when Jesus comes into the story, things cannot stay the way they were. Change will come. The possessed man did not ask to be healed. In fact he objected as Jesus told the demons to leave: What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me. The grace of God came unlooked for and unexpected. Grace entered his life and changed everything.
§  Will it be the same for us? Well, if Jesus is present to us (and when is he not?), yes! Grace always comes unlooked for. Our saviour is the point of grace and it is the undeserved and unearned grace of God that saves. It is that grace that gives us growth and that challenges us to become more than we are at the present. It challenges us to become more like Christ.
§  Becoming like Christ means change and we don’t like change, especially changes in ourselves. We’d just as soon stay as we are. Do you know what the chances of that are? As the caption on the little cartoon says “He’ll change everything!” (The cartoon was part of a handout left on a stand in the sanctuary. It is included at the end of this writing.)
§  Changes in the Church are coming, locally and far beyond these four walls. There is no longer a Catholic priest in residence in Aylmer. At present, there is only one pastor at the Christian Reformed Church. Your pastor is up for retirement in a few months (although I have it on good authority that he’ll stay on in some fashion.) The Catholic bishops of the Amazon region in Brazil are considering ordaining married men. Changes everywhere.
§  Things can’t remain the way they are, just as we can’t be the same person we were 10 or 20 years ago. We may not like it but that’s the fact. What doesn’t change is the grace of God. That grace will however change us.
§  Finally I want to end with a disturbing blessing.
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them And turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done,
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.
·       Don’t be afraid. No matter what changes, God will be with us.
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.



Sunday, 16 June 2019

Trinity Sunday ----- 16 June 2019



Romans 5:1-5
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
·       One of the problems with preaching on Trinity Sunday is the fact that anything the preacher might say will – at the very least – skate close to heresy. Any time a church festival celebrates a theological point, misinterpretation is not just possible, but almost assured.
·       There is little I could say to clarify the Trinity. Much has been said by great teachers of the faith and lots of debate had come from what has been said. There are many who take the name “Christian” who do not hold to the idea of a three-fold God, concentrating as they do on the oneness and unity of God. For many of us who hold fast to what we call the orthodox faith, the Trinity remains a mystery that is beyond our understanding.
·       Yet it can be experienced without a complete, intellectually-satisfying understanding. Even without understanding, it can be lived.
·       So, live it.
·       On a small stand at the front of the sanctuary, there is a print of an icon that depicts three angelic beings sitting around a table. The inspiration of this image is two-fold. The writer of the icon – a man named Andrei Rublev - wished to depict the Trinity in a way that the viewer could comprehend. So there are three figures, all appearing equal although dressed differently.
·       He took as his visible inspiration the meal Abraham set before the three mysterious visitors who came to his tent to tell Abraham and his wife, Sarah, that they would have a child together.
·       They also warned Abraham of the impending destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember the story? Abraham then bargained with the one visitor, the one that the book of Genesis identifies as “the Lord”, for the lives of those who were living in those cities: “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? … Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:23-25)
·       It’s quite a stirring and interesting story. The icon hints at that part of the story, but it depicts the meal Abraham set before his visitors. When you look at it, would you wonder if there is anything missing?
·       At its best, the theology of things like icons says that the depiction acts as a “window” on the event depicted. Here we see a meal. Now I ask you: is there anything more frustrating than watching other people eat? Who is more left out than a spectator at a picnic?
·       We could take it that the figures sitting around the table are inviting us to join them at the table, to share with them the intimacy of true hospitality seen in the meal. It’s not easy to see but each figure carries a staff, the sort of thing that is carried on a journey, for safety and sure footing. However they’re not going anywhere! It is each of us, individually and communally, that are on a journey and the Trinity is ready to accompany us all the way to the end of that journey. Food for the journey is provided and both direction and protection are implied by the staves that are carried. The Trinity is waiting. One view of the theology says they are engaged in a dance together. The only thing missing is the presence of the one looking at the icon, the one who completes the depiction. The only thing missing is you and I. The only thing missing is us.
·       The invitation is given and the place is open. The meal is prepared and the table is spread. Our God waits for us and wishes us to join the life of the Trinity. How to live a life in the Trinity is something we all can do simply by loving God and loving one another.
·       That is living the life of the Trinity. What we might not be able to understand, we can experience. In fact, we’re invited to that experience, now, in the future, all the way to the end of the road as we see it.
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Pentecost Sunday ---- 9 June 2019


Romans 8:14-17
14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
§  Today is the festival of Pentecost. Whatever else it might be for the various parts of the Christian Church, it is the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples who made up the earliest congregation of the Church. With that, a group of inward-looking and frightened people became a dynamic force that carried the Good News of Jesus Christ to all that was known of the world at the time.
§  The speaking of languages previously unknown to the disciples is a way of saying that people of every race, nationality, and language were not only acceptable to God, but were invited into God’s kingdom by the preaching and out-reach of the Church.
§  Pentecost tells us of the power of the Holy Spirit that can inspire and empower such great things. Evangelization, formation, and reformation when it becomes necessary all come from the Spirit and the Spirit’s work within the Church.
§  We also hear of works of power in our own time. Great preachers, inspiring teachers, people passionate about causes and issues of our time. People working for peace, people working for equality, people working for freedom from slavery… all through the power of the Spirit. If that last point – slavery – sounds strange and out of plalce in our time, I have to sadly say that on this day, there are as many people in slavery world-wide as there ever have been and very possibly more. Slavery – called “human trafficking” - is here in our area of this free country and often those enslaved are blamed for their own predicament. Those who work for the freedom of these people - many of whom are teenagers or younger - are led by the Spirit.
§  What about the rest of us? The more ordinary and average Christians who work hard and go about the business of being faithful to the Gospel? Is the Spirit with us if we don’t have the gifts that are so often tied to the presence of the Holy Spirit? If we don’t speak in tongues, heal with a touch, or show special knowledge?
§  The answer is “Yes!” As Paul wrote to the church in Rome For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. Paul goes on: When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ…
§  In our Baptism, we received the gift of the Holy Spirit. That presence is renewed and restated in Confirmation. Every day of our lives, we pray in the Spirit. We have received the Spirit’s gifts and in the right light, they are far from ordinary and average. The gift of a simple faith is a manifestation of the Spirit in the lives of the people we might meet every day. The freedom we know in Christ, and even in the suffering we might share with him, is a gift of the Spirit. By the gift of the Spirit, we are children of God and heirs with Christ.
§  In this understanding of the gifts of the Spirit, I’d like to tell a little story. It’s an old French story called “Our Lady’s Juggler.”  It's rather "Catholic" so maybe we'll call it "Mary's Juggler." 
     Barnaby was a travelling juggler, going from town to town, practicing his act in all sorts of weather. One day he met a monk, who told him of his community dedicated to the praise of God. Barnaby, a simple and devout man, gave up his juggling and joined the monastery.
§  There he found other devout men, and compared to them, he felt he had little to offer. The monks were sculptors, poets, artists, musicians, and theologians and were especially dedicated to the mother of Jesus while he was a simple juggler. They saw Barnaby become more and more depressed, until one day, he changed totally. He was happy and peaceful.
§  One day, the abbot quietly followed Barnaby and peeked into the chapel to see the man juggling madly and skillfully before Mary’s statue there. The abbot - a man of faith and compassion - decided Barnaby had gone crazy and he slipped in to quietly take the man to his cell. But as he did so, he stopped, shocked to see the statue of the Mother of Jesus step down to wipe the perspiration from Barnaby’s face. The abbot knew… we all have our gifts.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 

Sunday, 2 June 2019

The Seventh Sunday after Easter ---- 2 June 2019



John 17:20-26
20 [Jesus prayed] "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 "Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them."

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.
·       On Sundays and often on other days, we’re asked to pray for other people, to commend them to God for reasons of health, need, relationship, or distance. I add the last because we all have relatives and friends who live a far from here, which could be London, Montreal, Shreveport, Louisiana, or places in Europe… or even in Australia!
·       When we pray, we might mention the person’s name, remind ourselves (and God) of their situation, and possibly ask for certain things. Some of us might hold a picture of the person in our mind’s eye and commend them to God without words that way.
·       We could also look at a different way. We have to believe that God already know what we will pray about, even before we begin. The Almighty really doesn’t need a reminder of these things. So maybe when we pray for others, we are acknowledging that these people or these situations are part of our lives in God and God’s grace. It’s a different way of looking at things and it provides us with an invitation to include more of our lives in our relationship with God.
·       Now this is all about our own prayer. The New Testament, in particular the letters of Paul, ask us to keep the church, both near and far, in our prayers, and as Paul says pray without ceasing. (1 Thess. 5:15) The Gospel today tells us that Jesus prayed for his disciples on the night before he was crucified. The passage we read today is part of what is referred to as Jesus’ “high priestly prayer” at the Last Supper in John. We’d expect Jesus to pray for his disciple, especially in the face of how they might react to his execution on the Cross.
·       Then comes the surprise: I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. Jesus is not simply praying for the people around him at the table; he is praying for all who will follow his Way because of the preaching and teaching of the disciples… and their disciples… and THEIR disciples.
·       You know who that includes, don’t you? In these phrases, Jesus is praying for us! We have come to faith by the grace of God reaching out to us through the apostles’ teaching handed down over the years by so many, many faithful people.
·       In the final analysis, our relationship with Jesus is because of his grace coming to us through pastors, teachers, friends, family, or parents over the years. The number of years or the distance in kilometres does not matter. The living grace of Christ overcomes all those things we’d consider to be barriers.
·       Last Thursday was the festival of the Ascension. We’ve used some prayers celebrating that event this day. Next week is Pentecost. We celebrate Jesus’ return to the Father and then we’ll celebrate the coming of the Spirit upon the Church – not just the pastors, the deacons and deaconesses, and the bishops, but the entire church.
·       Jesus remains with us through the Spirit, each of us and all of us as his church, his people. He continually prays for us, interceding for us and our needs, even joining with our prayers for others. Our lives are part of his and always will be.
·       Do we want Good News today? How about this: Isn’t it great to know that we are always on God’s mind?

Sunday, 26 May 2019

The Sixth Sunday of Easter ---- 26 May 2019



John 14:23-29
23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, "I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
·       Ever wonder why Jesus says both he and the Father will “make our home” with us?
·       Ever wonder why the book of Revelation speaks of a new Jerusalem and a new heaven and a new earth?
·       Ever wonder what Christian hope is for and what it is about?
·       Maybe I’m strange and weird, but I think about that from time to time. Maybe I’m not busy enough with all the regular things of life. Maybe it’s something I do while cutting the grass.
·       For some Christians, earthly life is something to be escaped, something to be overcome. It’s an annoying stop-over on the road to heaven. If your life on earth is rotten and painful and unsatisfying, then heaven is the place to be. If you live a privileged life of wealth or comfort or happiness on earth, heaven and the real loss of all those things is something not to be thought about. Maybe it’s something to be avoided.
·       What is life on earth about then? We could say it’s a trial, testing us to see if we’re ready for (or worthy of) what is to come. However if we say that, it makes salvation our work rather than a free gift of grace from God. The same could be said if we say that life is a search for God. Again that gives us over to our own effort rather than the grace of God.
·       John says that those who keep Jesus’ word out of love for him will be loved by God and will become that home of God. Although this may sound a bit like a reward for proper behavior, it is a statement of grace. Hearing Jesus’ words and keeping Jesus’ word can only be done in God’s grace and the presence of the Father and of Jesus is certainly grace.
·       Notice there is no talk of removing the Christian from life in this earth nor is there any talk of all this being a heavenly reward at the end of a life well lived. Rather this presence, this “in-dwelling” takes place in the here-and-now. Not at some mysterious place and some unknown time, but now.
·       If we make Christian hope all about somewhere else at some other time, we miss the point of the Kingdom of God and of the Resurrection. Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom was that it has “come near” and it was to be seen and accepted now. It is Good News to those who heard the proclamation when they heard it.
·       As Jesus told his disciples, this is not peace as the world gives, but it will be peace in the middle of any and all troubles. It will be peace as peace was meant to be.
·       At Easter, our festival of the Resurrection of Christ, we glimpse where the whole of creation is going – renewed life. In the readings during the Easter season, we hear of a promised future in the passages taken from that strange book, Revelation. We hear of a new heaven and a new earth and an intimate closeness with God that is coming even as it begins now. Even hearing this, we can remember that the revelation of God takes place in this world and is given to “average” people like us. We can begin to see the full beauty and depth of God’s creation and the fullness and renewal of that creation promised to us in the book of Revelation, but most wonderfully in the Resurrection of Jesus, whom death could not hold bound. Death itself will be defeated and the world death held in chains will be freed and renewed, completed and –in a way- even transfigured.
·       It’s a lot to hope for and a lot to digest, but I suppose that is what eternity is for. It might be too much to ask, but it will not be too much for God to give.
Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

Friday, 24 May 2019

The Fifth Sunday of Easter ---- 18 May 2019



Revelation 21:1-6
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
John 13:31-35
31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. 32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. 33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come.' 34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
·       In this day and age, we can be in touch with each other almost instantaneously and almost at the push of a few buttons. Telephones - whether for talk or text, e-mail (if we have it and use it), Skype for video calls are all quick. I use some of them to send and receive information from the Synod, the church council, groups I am attached to, and from friends, near and far. I hear from friends in London, in Dutton, in Toronto and Hamilton, in the United States, in the United Kingdom, and in Greece, Italy, and Finland. It’s fun and it’s a good way to keep in touch.
·       But it isn’t face-to-face contact. There is something lacking that only actually being there can offer.
·       With this in mind, our Gospel reading today takes us back to the upper room and the Last Supper to hear what Jesus told the Eleven after Judas left.
·       I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. We’ve heard so often, we don’t even hear it anymore. Theologians have studied this passage and picked it apart, interpreted it and reinterpreted it many times. Yet it stands. If it falls, it is because we ignored it.
·       I don’t really know why this reading was chosen for this Sunday, and yet it makes sense. We’ve talked about “living in the Resurrection” before. Since Jesus spoke to his disciples about this before his crucifixion (and resurrection), this must be how he wanted his disciple to live. This is what it means to “live in the Resurrection.”
·       Even the book of Revelation echoes this when it says See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. Despite the troubles of the writer’s time, the community of the faithful would receive this as a gift from God.
·       So through all our troubles, will the world know that we are disciples of Jesus by
·       Our dress?
·       Our speech?
·       Our choice of jobs?
·       Where we live?
·       Our backgrounds?
·       The number of our children?
·       How clean our houses are?
·       What we “like” on Facebook?
·       Whether or not we wear a little cross on a chain around our necks?
·       No, it’s actually simpler and tougher … By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. As the writer G.K. Chesterton put it: Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
·       That’s what it’ll take. It won’t be easy although it appears to be the easiest thing to do. It is actually the hardest thing to do, to love God and to love unreservedly the person next to you, behind you, and in front of you.
·       It is what ultimately draws people to the Christian church – not the quality of the preaching, not the liturgy and the music, not the coffee and cakes, but the acceptance, the common concern, the support, the lived message of the grace of God. For lack of a more precise term – the love.
·       It is what the world needs now and has always needed. It is what we all need, what we will always need, and what has been promised to us by the grace of God, both now and in what is to come.
·       It is grace lived out.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.