Saturday, 27 May 2017

Unknown Gods

The first time I read the words from the book of Acts, I was struck by the line that Paul found inscribed on an altar. “to the god nobody knows.” Mostly because the preacher in me admired what Paul does with his next breath. Paul is in Athens. The centre of intellect and rhetoric. The homes of Zeus and the whole pantheon of Greek Gods and Paul says, “. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.” (Acts 17:23) It is just as powerful thousands of years later. Is it any wonder that Paul is responsible for introducing so many communities to the good news of Jesus? Paul travelled extensively and wherever goes, he finds a group of people interested in hearing about Jesus. He goes to people’s homes and public squares and finds a way to connect their everyday lives to the good news of Jesus. 
I’m going to press rewind on our reading because Paul wasn’t supposed to preaching in Athens. At the beginning of chapter 17 it describes how Paul had to be taken by stealth out of Thessalonica. The leaders in the community did not like the Word that Paul was teaching in their community. With the help of his friends and supporters Paul makes his way to Athens where he is waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him.
As Paul explores Athens he sees idols everywhere. One translation of this text says he was deeply distressed by all the idols and another says, “The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got—all those idols! The city was a junkyard of idols.” (Acts 17: 16) It it is almost like Paul can’t help himself. He sees the idols everywhere and needs to share a message of hope. So Paul begins talking about the good news of Jesus with the Jewish community and other like-minded people in the city. Some philosophers hear what Paul is saying about Jesus’ resurrection and they want to know more. They take Paul to a quieter place at the Areopagus to hear more. 
Up to this point, Paul’s message has been directed to the Jewish community. This a new audience filled with the Athenian elite which requires a different kind of message. It says in Acts, “So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.” (Acts 17: 22 – 23) 
The God that Paul introduces the Athenians to that day is one we know. It is the God who created the world, a God who doesn’t need human shrines, a God who is always near. Then Paul quotes a poem by the Greek poet Aratus, “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:28) Then comes Paul’s big conclusion, “Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:29 – 31) 
Paul’s preaching that day did not spark faith in everyone. It says in our reading, “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.” (Acts 17: 32 – 34) 
You may be wondering what a sermon preached over 2000 years ago in Athens has to do with us today? We are in a time when fewer people know the good news of Jesus. People haven’t heard about the ways that Jesus touches our lives with hope. People haven’t the message of God’s deep and abiding grace. It is up to us who’ve heard the story to share it. And just like Paul did in Athens, to use the things that people are familiar with to inspire curiosity and faith. Music, poetry, art, justice, community, compassion can all be reminders of God’s deep and abiding love for us in Jesus. 
Dr. Matt Skinner writes, “The gospel sounds different everyplace it is told. That's because the gospel does not exist in some unadulterated form in isolation from human language, culture, or presuppositions. It's always enfleshed in some way--linguistically, culturally, personally. How would we understand it, or recognize it as good news for us, if it weren't? 
In every age they found ways to proclaim the gospel. In April of 1894 right here at Cochrane Street there was a successful missionary service with preaching by a variety of preachers. That was one tool. What tool to share the gospel can we use for today? We live in a time of increased curiosity about faith and spirituality. The spiritually section in our books stores keeps growing. People have question and want to know more. As the culture shifts and changes, we need to find our own way to respond to that culture and to make the good news come to life for today.
Perhaps you can take some time this week to think about the ways that good news has touched your life or ways you’ve felt God come close and share that moment with a friend. Maybe as you listen to the radio or read a book you will find something that reminds of the ways that God is at work in your life. Maybe that will help others connect to God. 
Whenever those moments happen, it seems to me that God is reaching out to me in the most unexpected ways. A few years ago, I was struggling with what to do for one of our Holy Week services. I was sitting in my car, the radio on, and I heard a song by Great Big World called “Say Something.” It was like I heard Peter’s story of denying Jesus three times in song. Here are the words, 
Say something, I'm giving up on you
I'll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere, I would've followed you
Say something, I'm giving up on you” (Great Big World, Say Something)
God is always finding new ways to reach us – to make those great introductions. We too can be like Paul who saw that shrine to the god that nobody knows and took it upon himself to introduce people to God. The story of God’s love and mercy is all around us. It is our calling to make that unknown God known and as we do God’s guiding grace will be with us. Amen. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

And When They Lifted Their Eyes

At the 3pm service on May 14th 1882, the day the first building on this site was dedicated, the Rev. David Beaton of the Congregationalist Church rose to give the message. He preached on one line from the Gospel of Matthew, “And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only.” It comes from the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus, Peter and the brothers James and John head up a mountain to pray. While they are there, Jesus is changed, transformed and he becomes dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear. Peter wants to build a dwelling place. Then that voice from heaven comes saying, “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.” (Matthew 17:5) Then the disciples, filled with fear, fall to the ground. Jesus touches them and tells then not to be afraid. Then comes the line that was used as inspiration 135 years ago, the translation from The Messages puts it this way, “When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.” (Matthew 17:8)
My friends as we sit here today, 135 years after the first building on this site was dedicated, we are still gathering for worship and trying to figure out what it means to lift up our eyes and see Jesus. 135 years later we are still following in the ways of Jesus. 135 years later and that same passage of scripture which we normally hear at the beginning of lent can be a reminder of what we need to be about as a people of faith. 
In that 135 years some things have changed. The hymns, the music, the choir gowns and in January of 1914 that first building burned down. But one important thing has not changed. With their eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, 101 years ago they decided to rebuild even though the war was coming, even though it was expensive, even though they knew it would be hard. 
I’m in awe of our forbearers who took the chance to build a church here in this place not once but twice. They were a people of faith and vision. They lived in a time when the church was expanding and growing. Sundays schools were filled to capacity. They had a message to share and a vision of people to gathering in faith. 
Over that 135 one of things that changed is the churches place in society. One time churches were the centre of community. Today that is not necessarily the case. We hear regularly that the church is dying.  Just week I read an article from the Washington Post, “If it doesn’t stem its decline, mainline Protestantism has just 23 Easters left.” The author writes, “The news of mainline Protestantism’s decline is hardly new. Yet the trend lines are showing a trajectory toward zero in both those who attend a mainline church regularly and those who identify with a mainline denomination 23 years from now. While the sky isn’t falling, the floor is dropping out. The trajectory, which has been a discussion among researchers for years, is partly related to demographics. Mainline Protestants, which has been the tradition of several U.S. presidents, aren’t “multiplying” with children as rapidly as evangelicals or others of differing faiths. And geography matters. Places where Protestants live are now in socio-economic decline, and parts of the country like the Sun Belt are become more evangelical with every passing winter.
It sounds pretty daunting doesn’t it. 23 Easters left. We don’t only hear this story of decline and hopeless in the papers. We talk about it in our churches and in our meetings. We lament over all the things we’ve lost – lower attendance. No children. No youth. No volunteers. Where have those good old days gone? Here is what I know. The message of Jesus Christ is timeless and there is no amount of change that can diminish the good news of Jesus. He isn’t going anywhere and neither are those who follow in his way. The church may be changing but it isn’t dying. As Paul writes in Hebrews “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) We can choose to look at the statistics of decline and nod our heads in agreement. We can remember the good old days when pews and Sunday schools were full. We can look back with longing for days long gone. There is no future in looking backward with longing. 
Jesus’ invitation is here and it is now. It our turn to do what our forbearers did when they first built a church on the site. We can lift up our eyes and see Jesus, only Jesus. We can find new ways to tell the stories of his love, of his welcome, of healing, of the new life. We can reach out and meet people where they are. We can follow in Jesus’ footsteps and offer care and support to those on the margins of our community.  
Perhaps the most powerful thing we can do is tell our story to others. I know, we are out of practice. We accepted that idea that we don’t talk religion with other people. We need to start. If we don’t share our story with others, if we don’t tell people why we come to this place each week, how will they know? The time has come for us to be brave and share with others why we believe in God and how sometime it’s not easy because doubt creeps in. Talk about the times when God comes powerfully into our lives offering healing, hope and help. Find new ways of telling that age-old story. Like those who went before us, we lift our eyes to Jesus who guides us as we dream new dreams. 
This congregation over the generations has worked with tenacity and hope to share message of God’s love and to help the people of this city. That legacy continues in all of you today. Just three short years ago, this congregation faced a challenging choice: close our doors or take a chance on something new and different. Once again, this community of faith lifted their eyes to Jesus and made another big change. Your courage held create Cochrane Centre, a not for profit that has built 10 homes for people in need in this community. The legacy of people who first had the foresight to build a church on this site continues in a new way. 

We do not know what the future will hold for us as a congregation. Here is what we know. Whatever tomorrow brings, we face it with our brothers and sisters in faith. God continues to guide this congregation as we dream new dreams. And we know, that when we keep our eyes lifted to Jesus, we will have all that we need to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Amen. 

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Get Loud

This week is mental health awareness week. The hashtag for social media is “Get Loud” about mental health. Perhaps you saw the video of the Stella’s Circle Inclusion choir singing the new song they wrote with Amelia Curran called “Be the Change” at Rawlins Cross. Maybe you’ve heard the story about the new yellow bench at Gonzaga High School that encourages the students to pause, talk about and take care of their mental health. Individuals have shared their personal stories about their struggles with mental health. 
It’s not something we talk much about at church. And yet it affects a lot of people. It affects members of my family and maybe its touched yours. As I listened this week to the stories, I started to wonder what Jesus would have to say about mental health. The bible is full of healing stories. It seems to me that Jesus ministry is about love and in particular those who find themselves on the margins. Jesus welcomes the ones who struggles the most and offers hope and healing. 
When it comes to mental illness, whether it is for ourselves or for someone we love, we long for help, hope, the right medication, welcome, community, healing and most of all an end to their suffering. There are no simple answers or miracle cures but there is help and hope.
Our Gospel reading this morning gives us some clues about Jesus’ response. The disciples are still shaking from the near drowning. Jesus has just rebuked the winds and calmed the raging seas. They are finally on dry land in the land of the Gerasenes. As they step out of the boat, a man who had a demon meets them. Nothing was working in life for him. He couldn’t wear clothes and he had no home. In fact, he made his home among the tombs. The demons take one look at Jesus, fall to the ground and cry, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, son of the most high God? I beg you, do not torment me.” (Luke 8:29) Then Jesus asks the demon its name – Legion for there were many. They begged to go into the pigs instead of the abyss.  When the towns people come to see what’s happened they find the man clothed, in his right mind and sitting at Jesus feet. The people from the community are so filled with fear that they asked Jesus to leave. The man healed begs to go with Jesus. Jesus says to him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39)
This is not an easy story. In part because we don’t talk about demons in the same way as they did in Jesus time. It’s a struggle to understand. Maybe you are wondering the same thing. A few things helped me on the way. The preacher Nadia Bolz Webber writes, “I’ve confessed this before but I don’t always know what to do when it comes to talk about demons in the Bible.  Especially when the demons talk and have names and stuff like that. I’m never sure if back then they had the exact same things going on that we do, but they didn’t know about things like epilepsy or mental illness so they just called it all demon possession. But I do know that many of you, like myself, have suffered from addictions and compulsions and depression – things that have gotten ahold of us, making us do things we don’t want to. Or making you think you love things, or substances or people that are really destructive. So maybe if that, in part, is what having a demon is, maybe if it’s being taken over by something destructive, then possession is less of an anachronism, and more of an epidemic.”
Michael Rogness, a professor at Luther Seminary, writes “all the “demons” Jesus confronts have three things in common: they cause self-destructive behavior in the victim, the victim feels trapped in that condition, and they separate the victim from normal living in the family circle. Sound familiar? Don’t many of us suffer from the same kind of snares and burdens?” 
So maybe we do know demons – they have names like anger, depression, addiction, fear, compulsion, and they claim our lives and make it impossible to remain part of the community, to remember that we are loved. We can’t remember those words God whispers in our ears. “You are loved. You are mine.”  When Jesus steps off the boat and finds this man whose been suffering for so long, and says those words of hope and love, is it any wondered that those demons know their days are numbered? Love, community and hope help banish isolation and loneliness. The last thing that Jesus does before he returns to the boat is to return this man to his community, to his family circle. He asks to go with Jesus. He does not want to lose this new feeling. Instead of an invitation to follow, Jesus invites him to return. “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” (Luke 8:39)
With all healing stories, we need to proceed with caution. I’m not saying if you pray hard enough faith will cure you. I’m saying that God stands with us. I’m saying that Jesus shows us a path to healing and then walks with us. There is a hymn in our hymn book called “Silence, Frenzied, Unclean Spirit.” It is hard to hear because it sounds out of key and jarring. The words of the last verse are: “Silence, Lord, the unclean spirt in our mind and in our heart; speak your word that when we hear it, all our demons shall depart. Clear our thoughts and calm our feeling; still the fractured, warring soul, By the power of your healing, make us faithful, true and whole.” The music does not get easy to hear until the last words of the last verse as we sing “true and whole.” 

In the season of Easter, we are reminded that Jesus offers us new life. It is a free gift and with it comes peace for our fractured souls and an invitation to wholeness. What Jesus does for the man possessed by demon spirits, he does for all of us. Jesus sends the demons away and invites us to wholeness and to community.  As the body of Christ, we are called to work for the health and wholeness of all our brothers and sisters. No matter the challenges we face, we are God’s beloved children and we never walk alone. Amen. 

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.