Friday, 14 April 2017

The Shadow of Burial

 Scripture Reading: Matthew 27:57- 61
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

When I learned to read, I found a new world in books and I loved it. They type of book didn’t matter. I loved Jane Austin, L.M. Montgomery and Jane Eyre as much as I loved Harlequin Romances and the tales of the Sweet Valley High Twins. But there were limits. I was not one for suspense. I had to know how the book ended. Every book that I read in those day, I flipped to the back of the book and read the last chapter first. There was no worry I’d be disappointed by a book that ended badly or in a disappointing way. I knew where the book was heading from the very beginning and that was just how I liked it. 
So you know that my younger self appreciates Holy Week because we already know how the story ends. We know, with each candle that is extinguished that even with Jesus crucified and the tomb sealed up tight that come Sunday morning the stone is rolled away and Jesus is risen. We know on already the good news that is waiting for us in three short days. Perhaps it’s like the chorus of one REM’s song “It’s the end of the world as we know it – and I feel fine.” We have the luxury of knowing how the story is going to end. We can feel fine even though the story of Good Friday is far from good. 
It was not fine for the disciples. The disciples, Mary Magdalen and the other Mary, Joseph of Arimathea don’t know what lies ahead. They heard Jesus promise to rise in three days. But they are filled with the sorrow and grief because that his words faded from their memories. They don’t know that not only is it going to be fine, it is going to be glorious. They know the hell they’ve lived and are living through. They know it went from jubilation to terror in a few short days. The distance between hosanna and crucify is alarmingly short.  
Through the whole story, looking on from the distance were the woman who followed Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel, it is Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. They watch as Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 470); as Jesus breaths his last; and as the curtain of the temple is torn in two and the earth shakes and rocks split. It is only after all this that the harsh reality of death hits them. Jesus is no longer there to teach or heal or encourage. He is no longer the shinning hope that one day they will defeat the Roman empire that has oppressed them for so long. 
I’m guessing that for the disciples who’d been with Jesus since the invitation to fish for people, that it was like someone turned out all the lights; that hope was lost. Maybe they asked questions like, “How could this happen? How did hosanna become crucify?” Maybe Peter is still angry at himself for denying Jesus three times. While the questions and sorrow lingers, there is no time to sit and wait. 
With death comes things that must be attended to. The Sabbath is at hand and Jesus’ burial needs to happen quickly. Joseph of Arimathea takes charge. He goes to Pilate and gets permission to bury Jesus. He takes a clean linen cloth and wraps the body and lays it in the new tomb.  He rolls a great stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and leaves. Jesus is buried. Mary Magdalen and the other Mary watch it all. Disbelief. Sorrow. Pain. There is nothing more that can be done. They go home to wait for the Sabbath to be over. 

Now we must do the same. Watch, wait, pray until the sun rises on the third day. Amen. 

Monday, 27 February 2017

Six Days Later

Six days later it says in our scripture reading. Six days after Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) Six days after Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18. Six days after Jesus tells the disciples “that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21) Six days after Jesus rebukes Peter saying, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling b block to me;” (Matthew 16:23) Six days after Jesus tells the disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
Six days later – after all this, Jesus invites three of the disciples to come with to pray. This was not and unusual request. Jesus often took time away from the crowds to pray and to recharge his batteries. Perhaps without much thought about what would happen next, Peter, James and John went with Jesus up the mountain to pray. While Jesus is praying something amazing, something inexplicable happens. Jesus’ clothes become dazzling white and his face “shone like the sun.” (Matthew 17:2) We don’t know exactly what happened in that moment, but I’m guessing that Jesus comes face to face with the eternal and living God. And you cannot stand in God’s presence and not be changed. Just ask Moses – he meets God and the people are so terrified that he must cover his face.
But it doesn’t stop there. Moses and Elijah appear and they are talking with Jesus. Peter not knowing what to do or to say, says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17:4) and with the words barely out of his mount, something else happens. They are overshadowed, and a voice says, “This is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5)
Is it any wonder that the disciples fall to the ground shaking with fear? Who knows how long they stayed there. Jesus comes to them in their fear and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” (Matthew 17:8) As they are walking down the mountain Jesus says, “Tell no one about the vision until after the son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:9)
This story is pure mystery. I cannot explain how the improbable and impossible somehow become real. But this story – told in all three Gospels is our story of hope. Ever year, in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, we tell this story of Jesus transfigured. Of Peter saying how good it is to be here. Of the commands “Listen. Get up. Don’t be afraid because it is the heart of the Gospel message. In God’s love, we are changed. By God’s grace, we are all transformed. And there is no time more important to remember this, then before the season of encountering our mortality and deepening our relationship with God. During Lent, we make our own journey of drawing closer to God. And God drawing closer to us that we are transfigured. Changed.
A few years ago I watched a movie called “Salmon Fishing in the Yemon. What I loved about this movie is the journey from what is deemed improbable – maybe impossible – salmon rivers in the desert into a reality. It is about hope. The Sheik who wants a sustainable food supply and industry for his people. A woman lost in grief. A man closed to other possibility. By the end of the movie the impossible becomes possible and each character in their own way is looking at the world as full of hope and potential instead of dead ends.
The impossible becomes possible on Mountain top. God came close and changes Jesus. Strengthens him for crucifixion and death. Holy and mysterious moments give us what we need for the journey ahead. We all take with us God’s words of promise. Jesus is God’s beloved. Listen to him. And we are reminded that in our fear, it is Jesus who touches our shoulder gentle and says, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.”
Our fears are all different. Not two of us face the same challenges. David Loose in his column In the Meantime writes, “…the prospect of job loss, the potential to betray our national identity and values, the fading possibility of a better future for our children, dread illness, unexpected death, the list goes on. Fear is a part of the common fabric of our lives even though it manifests itself differently. And to all these different fears, the Gospel reply is the same: Because God is God of the past, present, and future, we need not fear. This is not the same as saying that we will have no problems, or that we will avoid all harm and hardship. Rather, it is recognizing that when we trust God for our individual and communal good and believe God is with us always, we need not fear.”
Perhaps you have your own story of God’s presence in your life. Holy moments when it seems that God is present in ways we cannot explain. Moments when God says “Get up. Don’t afraid. Perhaps you’ve been touched by God’s healing, helping, grace filled, loving, abiding presence. These are not the everyday experiences. They are brief moments of wonder and mystery that always seem to come at exactly the right time. And it is hard to find the words to describe it. Sometimes it is a dream that brings peace. Sometimes it is the feeling of not being alone. Sometimes it being surround by a warm light. Whatever and however it happens there’s a sense that God has come near and life is changed.
As we head into Lent, let that Gospel message “don’t be afraid” sustain you. Our beloved, Jesus, leads us not only up the mountain to the place of mystery, but into our daily living. Showing us always the pathway to new life and transformation. Amen.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Love Lifts Us Up

Today we did something new. I was worried that my crazy idea – was a little too crazy. Singing songs that we hear on the radio in church. I almost called Evan on Tuesday to call it off. We gather together each week for an hour and in that time we sing hymns, read scripture, and pray. All this so we can learn more about the nature of God, who Jesus is, and how the Holy Spirit guides us in our daily living. We listen for that still small voice of God to lead us. I often think that Sunday morning is our shelter, our calm place, our rejuvenation that reminds us we are God’s beloved ones and it helps get us through the week whatever it holds.
And then, after church we leave this community and we spend most of our time living world and filling our time with work, family, friends. Each day we are influenced by all the things around us – colleagues at work, family, friends and strangers. Whether it is the songs on the radio or the movies we watch or the people we meet. They all impact how we live. And my question is always – how do we find God in the world around us? How do those stories of Jesus come alive in our work or as we play? How do we learn to find God beyond our Sunday morning worship? Because God is everywhere and God can speak to us in the most unexpected ways. Maybe just maybe if we tune our all our senses we can catch a glimpse of God.
That’s why the last activity I do with confirmation classes is something that helps explore ways to find God in our everyday lives. I ask each person to find a piece of music that they hear on the radio that makes them think of God. It can be any song as long as it makes them think of God. Last time we had a variety – Katy Perry’s “Fireworks”, Bay City Rollers’ “Safe and Sound”, Rufus Wainwright’s version of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah”; BeyoncĂ©’s “Hallo”.
There are times when I’m driving in my car and I hear a song and it makes me think of God or of a bible story. The first one was a LeAnne Rimes song “I Need You” She sings:
I need you like water
Like breath, like rain
I need you like mercy
From heaven's gate
There's a freedom in your arms
That carries me through
I need you.
That’s how I feel about God. I can’t do without that holy presence – like breath, like water. This week Carrie was singing Cyndi Lauper’s “I See Your True Colours” and I thought that what God sings to us.
But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow.
God see us and we are beautiful to God. And sometimes, we need that reminder – when things look grim that love is what binds us together and lifts us to that place where we belong. The heart of God’s message to us is love. God’s love for us, our love for friend and stranger and love for God. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment he says simply, “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 the first commandment. And the second is like it, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 37 – 40)
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians tells us how to live that love day t day. Today we mostly hear this passage of scripture at weddings. But Paul was writing to the gathered church in Corinth. Paul is describing the kind of love we are about as a people faith. One of the challenges facing the church in Corinth was the community was diverse and they didn’t always agree on how they should live out their faith. In part, it was because they didn’t come from the same socio-economic backgrounds. Some were wealthy and some were considered slaves. They had different backgrounds. Some were leaders in the Jewish community and some Gentiles. Brian Peterson writes “What is often missed, and perhaps actively ignored, is that this text was first written to a community that was having a very difficult time staying together. …It is in the difficult realities of relationships and communities that the love described by Paul needs to be lived out in costly ways.”
1 Corinthians 13 is an invitation to dig deep into what binds us together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Shiveyly Smith writes, “Make no mistake. The love Paul is talking about here is not passive and fluffy. This kind of love is an up at dawn, feet on the ground, tools in hand, working kind of love. It builds communities.”
The love that builds communities takes commitment and hard work. It means trusting that our disagreements will not stand in the way of being united as brothers and sisters in faith. Paul writes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:1 – 8)
The love that binds us means that we must draw our strength for our daily living from God’s love. Brian Paterson writes “We are not simply left to our own capacity for love. We can love because God has already fully known us and loved us anyway, and is working to make our lives and our communities look more and more like this busy, active, tireless love.
The love that binds us together means listening for the still small voice of God, in scripture, in hymns, in art, in music. God is speaking to us today and not just here on Sunday mornings but in all that we do. Stay attuned for that still small voice of God that can come to is in the beauty of this world, in art, in poetry, in music, in friendships, on the radio. We need those reminders so that we can be God’s people in the world, so we can live in community, so that we can love God and love others. It is God’s love that lifts us to where we belong and calls us to love others. Amen.

Monday, 6 February 2017

God-flavours & God-colours

     Our reading form the Gospel of Matthew picks up from where we left off last week. After Jesus tells them about the blessing. He continues with his teaching. I particularly love the translation of this passage from the Message. “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours of this world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on the light stand—shine!” (Matthew 5:13 – 16) Isn’t that a wonderful way of saying what we are about as a people of faith? We are the seasoning that brings out the God-flavours of this earth. We are the light that brings out God-colours of this world.
     This is not some future promise or hope of something to come, it is present. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are the salt of the earth – right now. Present tense. Dr. David Lose in his weekly reflections “In the Meantime” writes, “Once people believe that they are salt and light – not simply becoming or hoping to be but actually are—then you can encourage them to continue to be salt and light, letting their light shine so that people will see their good works and give thanksgiving and glory to God.”
     I think right now we need to bring out the God-flavours and God-colours of this world that we can get. I, like many of you, woke on Monday morning to hear the news of 6 people murdered and many more injured as they prayed in their mosque. It was terrifying. I like to think I live in a country where this wouldn’t happen. But it did. As the week unfolded we learned that this terrible attack was motivated by racism.
     Something else also happened this week. Something that reminded me of the God-flavours and God-colours that we sorely need. People from across this country sent letters of support and began organizing. Our Moderator, The Right Rev. Jordan Cantwell in her letter to our Muslim Brothers and Sisters writes, “The heinous violent act and other recent attacks targeting Muslims in Quebec and elsewhere are designed to instil fear and divisions within and between our communities. We will not let this happen. The United Church of Canada stands with our Muslim neighbours. We share your grief, as we share your determination to stop the forces of that that seek to divide and destroy us. … May the Creator, Allah, God, who gives our common humanity, give us the strength and will to walk in unity and love in these troubled times.”
     All week long in communities across this country have stood up and said no to hatred and violence. People of all faiths gathered to support and surround the Mosques with love and prayers. Right here in St. John’s hundreds of people gathered to surround the Mosque on Logy Bay Road on Friday. It was called Human shield. The crowd included religious leaders, politicians, citizens, one teacher took her class, children, seniors and teens. Woven through all the words was the need to let love guide us not hatred.
     The words that stood out for me, came from the Imam who gave the sermon on Friday.  He said something like – “we have taken precautions; we’ve increased security and spoken with the RNC. It is a time to be vigilant but not fearful. We still will welcome people to our community. There will be love not hatred. There will hope be hope not fear.” Friday marks the beginning of what needs to be an ongoing dialogue of friendship between our communities. It is the beginning of sharing the God-flavours and God-colours in our broken world.
     Jesus says, “Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Today we gather at the table with our brothers and sisters to be fed with gifts of bread and wine. This spiritual food nourishes our bodies and souls so that we can go into the world and be the salt that brings out the God-flavours of the earth and the light that brings out the God colours of this world. May your salt and light burn brightly this week. Amen.  

Sunday, 29 January 2017

To Seek Justice, Love Kindness & Walk Humbly with God

Sometimes, the readings from the lectionary seem to line up with what is happening in the world around us. We have two powerful passages of scripture that remind us what is at the heart of our faith. First there is Micah 6 – the words are so familiar. “He has told you O mortal what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and walk humble with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Sometimes, when the words are so familiar it is helpful to hear them spoken in new ways. Here is the translation from The Message “But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour; be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself to seriously –take God seriously.” (Micah 6:8)
Why was it necessary for Micah to remind people what was important? The people were doing all the right things. They went through the motions of following in God’s ways. But it was just actions and nothing more. God decides to put the people on trial with the mountains as judge. God treated the people with mercy but they do not remember it. God begins his opening statement: "O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” (Micah 6:3 – 4) In turn the people question God, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?"” (Micah 6:6 – 6:7)
     All of these are the most amazing offerings, each offering greater than the one before. The average citizen would eat meat once a month – to offer a calf a year old was like offering a large part of their income – thousands of rams would have been a near impossibility for most citizens. Rivers of oil? Not a chance. Kings and royalty often made such extravagant sin offerings but that did not change their heart or their actions. God counters with a request that seems so simple. God says through the prophet Micah, “and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) “It is quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour; be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself to seriously –take God seriously.” (Micah 6:8)
All week these words have been running through my mind. Then I hear of a news ban on refugees and people travelling from seven Muslim countries and I wonder how this can be? There are stories of people who’ve lived in the United States for years with homes, families and jobs detained in airports around the world. There are rumours that there will be an executive order that will force Muslims to register. I find myself in a state of shock. That refugees, people who are already suffering, people who’ve been cleared through an extensive security vetting are now deemed a threat. It seems so far from the justice and compassion that is at the heart of Micah’s message.
Then you add to that conversation Jesus’ reading from the Beatitudes – a portion of the sermon on the Mount. In Matthew’s gospel this does not take place in front of gathered crowds. It is just Jesus and the disciples. He begins by teaching the disciples what it means to be blessed. We have to be careful here – blessing the in the gospels is not necessarily how we use the words.
Sometimes, when everything is going well, we call it a blessing. Sometimes people who have plenty of everyting – they describe themselves as blessed. Perhaps if you’ve reached the top of your profession you’d say your blessed. Perhaps you’ve had a gathering of friends and you say blessed. I know I’ve said it.
But then take a look at our reading and it sure isn’t how Jesus used the word. Jesus says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 – 11)
       The blessings of God’s kingdom are for all – for each and every one of us. They are the blessings that will sustain us in the most challenging of times. The Beatitudes are a reminder that God blesses us in our weakness and times of challenge. God calls us to be a blessing to others. That means providing welcome, shelter and hope to those in need. It means welcoming refugees fleeing from danger. It means standing up for those whose voices has been silenced.
The invitation to bless others, to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God is not one we can take lightly in these days of rising racism. The call to seek justice is not something we do alone. All around us people are raising their voices. Canada has agreed to welcome all the refugees turned away by the ban. The United Church of Christ – our partner church in United States along with others faith communities are raising their voices to keep the doors open to refugees. The Mayor of Boston promised to offer sanctuary in the city of hall to refugees and immigrants affected by this ban.
         In these bold actions, I am reminded that living out our faith is an invitation to draw the circle wide – to provide welcome to everyone. A living faith invites us to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. As we do this God’s kingdom of love becomes a reality. Amen.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Here I Am

A few years ago I listed to the an interview with scientists at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario on The Current. The Perimeter Institute specializes research into understanding of the fundamental laws of nature. I was struck by the passion they had for their work as theoretical physics. One scientist said, “The laws of nature are mysteriously beautiful. People around here want to be a part of understanding where that road is going and why it is that way. It turns out that what physics is discovering that the law of nature are incredibly beautiful and it does not have to be that way. It’s sort of a mystery.” (CBC, The Current).
That search to understand is not only a scientific pursuit, but one we can all engage in as we attempt to understand the mysteries of life, of love, of faith and nature. No book of the bible engages in this search better than the book Psalms filled with both beautiful poetry and the true search to understand both life and how God is at work in the world. There is a Psalm for every occasion and it is one of the few books of the bible that reflects a wide range of human experience.
Psalm 40 is reflects on themes of survival and discipleship.  The writer of Psalm has clearly been through a difficult ordeal.  The psalmist says, “You lifted me out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay and set my fee upon a rock, making my steps secure. You put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” U2 in their song simply called 40 offers this version of the Psalm:
“I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me right out of the pit,
out of my miry clay.
I will sing, sing a new song” (U2, 40)
 “I waited patiently for you, O God” says the psalmist. Not an easy task! Patience can be hard to come by. Whether it is patience with other people or with children who won’t cooperate or dealing with difficult situations, patience is hard. He waited in faith that God would act. And God responded, life returned to normal, as U2 sings, “He set my feet upon a rock and let my footsteps be heard.”  It can be hard in the moment to name when God is at work in your life. Sometimes, it is only when you are firmly planted on solid ground and you gaze through the rear-view mirror that you can see what God has done. The Psalmist does just that and finds beauty in God’s presence during the time of struggle. He sings, “O God, my God you have multiplied your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us, none can compare with you!”
With our feet planted on solid rock again. We are invited to follow in ever new ways.. The psalmist sings, “But you have opened my ears to hear and I said: “Here I am.” God’s invitation to us each day, to respond in faith saying, “Here I am.”
And even as we respond in faith sometimes it can take a lifetime to know whether or not it’s made a difference. This is certainly true for one man who sent a letter to a Sunday School Teacher after many years. He wrote from his hospital bed: "You probably do not remember me, but I visited your Sunday School class back in 1978 when I was staying with my grandparents during the summer. You were very kind to me and you said something that day which led me eventually to ...become a Christian. The reason I am writing you now is to say thanks, because my faith is very important to me. You see, I have cancer." Well, the woman was very touched by the story but the problem was that she did not have the faintest idea who this person was. She had no recollection at all of anything extraordinary happening in Sunday School in the summer of 1978, so being a diary keeper - she went to her diaries and looked up the entries for the Sundays of that summer. On the fourth Sunday of July in 1978, she found this entry: "I was tired this morning and I did not feel well but I went on to church and to Sunday School just the same and I taught my class of little boys. There was one in particular who was a real handful. He was a visitor and he could not sit still. I sat beside him and tried to give him a little extra attention. I don't know whether it did him any good or not." (
All around us there are people who do small acts of kindness that have a big impact on people’s lives. God’s call to each of us is not always to take on huge projects but by offering a helping hand, being present to offer encouragement or giving extra attention we can change peoples’ lives. Each day, God invites to respond in faith to the invitation to follow by saying “Here I am.” Amen.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

There Is No Such Thing As Ordinary

There is something powerful about stories. They have a way of moving us from one place to another. Think of the stories we hear at this time of year. There to story of the “Grinch” who hated Christmas. “No one quit knows the reasons. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right. It could be, perhaps that his shoes were just too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all. May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.” By the end of the story he realizes that Christmas is so much more than presents. “Then the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day!”
It is not only the Grinch that is changed by the Christmas message of hope but Scrooge in Dicken’s famous “Christmas Carol.” Overnight Scrooge is visited by the angels past, present and future who change his heart. On Christmas morning he wakes a new man. Then there are stories like, “The Gift of the Magi” that remind us of what it means to give from the heart. It the story of two people who gave everything they had for the other.
Then there is the Christmas story. So much more than literature. A story that contains a deep truth about life and faith. “Carolyn Sharp writes, “In the shadow of the Cross, we understand the Incarnation as a sign of hope clothed in vulnerability, conflict, and suffering. The Gospel shout is rooted in joy, to be sure! But to be meaningful, it must reflect an understanding of the loss, fear, and pain at the core of human existence.”
Marry knew all about those ups and downs of human existence. She was young, but one day he life was changed forever. The annunciations, the day the Angel Gabriel announces that Mary will literally bear God into the world, is a day described in so many ways. The poet Killian McDonnell imagines Mary’s story this way in his poem called In the Kitchen:
Bellini had it wrong.
I was not kneeling
on my satin cushion
silently at prayer
head slightly bent.

Painters always
skew the scene,
as if my life
were wrapped in silks,
and temple smells.

Actually I had just
come back from the well,
placing the picture on the table
I bumped the edge
spilling water on the floor.

As I bent to wipe
it up, there was a light
against the kitchen wall
as though someone had opened
the door to the sun.

Rag in hand
hair across my face,
I turned to see who was entering,
unannounced, unasked.

All I saw
was light, white
against the timbers.
I heard a voice
I had never heard.
I heard a greeting,
I was elected,
the Lord was with me,
I pushed my hair back,
I stood afraid.
Someone closed the door.
And I dropped my rag.
(Killian McDonnel, Swift Lord You are Not page 46 – 47)

In scripture it says, an angel of the Lord appeared to her. Not in a dream. Not in her imagination. But in person and says, “Greetings, favoured one. The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28) Now I don’t know about any of you. But I think that I’d be shaking. This is unexpected and confusing and probably scary. To reassure Mary, the angel says, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.” (Luke 1:30)
Then the angel tells Mary that she has a special calling. Unmarried, young and she was going to conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit.  “And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.” (Luke 1: 31 – 32) Many people would have run away because it is such an unbelievable story. I sometimes wonder how many people turned down this offer from the angel before Mary said yes. It was Mary who had the courage to say yes, to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
One Voice sings a song called “Hey Mary” The words say:

Hey Mary there’s an angel in your house
Said Mary have I got some news for you
You seem to think your nothing much
but heaven’s coming close enough to touch
Hey Mary God is coming here through you.

There is no such things as ordinary now.
God is here.
Every life and breath is blessed
You never know when God might appear.

Mary’s impossible, improbable and yet somehow gets to the very heart of the Christmas story. Mary was ordinary. She probably had some of the same struggles that we all have. Maybe she wondered why God chose her for the important job of bearing God into the world. Maybe she was filled with doubts. Whatever else we remember about this amazing story, remember that no matter how impossible or improbable – Mary said yes. And Mary’s yes changed everything in our world. “There is no such thing as ordinary now. God is here.” Mary said yes to bringing God’s word to the world. And then she sings the most hope filled words we can hear at Christmas. It says in Luke 1:44 – 55:
I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

Mary’s song is one of hope and promise. It is a story that changes everything. Because of her brave yes, her story becomes our story. We too are invited to say yes to the impossible and improbable.  With God all things are possible and the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
In this seasons of stories, God’s story with humanity echoes in the story of a maiden who inspires all of us to say yes. The end of the song “Hey Mary” is our invitation to say yes to God’s ways of hope and new life.
Hey People there’s angel in your house.
Said listen have I got some news for you
You seem to think your nothing much
but heaven’s coming close enough to touch
Hey People God is coming here through you. Amen