Wednesday, 29 May 2013

But We Had Hoped (April 18, 2013)

            It takes, depending on how fast you walk, around two hours to travel the 7 miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus. For Cleopas and the other disciple these were probably the most difficult two hours. The disciples had lost every that they’d been working for. Keep in mind this is the evening of the first day. Jesus died just three days ago. The women have come and shared the perplexing news that Jesus is not in the tomb and some angelic figures told the women of their group that he is indeed alive. But they aren’t sure whether or not to believe them. With heavy hearts they head to Emmaus sometimes in silence, sometimes talking trying desperately to understand all that has happened. Between the silences they tell stories about Jesus. “Do you remember when healed the blind man...  ” “ I can still see his face...” “I remember how it felt in that boat battered by the waves... ”

As they were telling these stories, they meet a stranger on the road. The stranger asks them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” (Luke 24:17)  And the two are amazed. He must be the only one in all of Jerusalem that does not know what happened. So they explain about Jesus and his death and what the women had said about Jesus being alive and how they hadn’t seen him. They said to Jesus, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”  (Luke 24:21)

“But we had hoped...”  We understand the pain that comes with those words, can’t we? But we had hoped she would get better. But we had hoped this move would make a difference. But we had hoped he’d get a new job. But we had hoped the cancer wouldn’t come back. But we had hoped the counsellor would help us. But we had hoped we would get good jobs in this new country. But we had hoped...

The lists of life’s disappointments are many. I’m guessing that most of us could complete the phrase “But I had hoped....” with our own lost hopes and disappointments. Life does not always work out as we expect it will. Life throws us curve balls and sometimes, just like the disciples, we need to find a way to gain some perspective.

When I need perspective I go for a long walk or to the gym or just sit in silence, in prayer hoping for some new insight. Most times I go for a walk and while I walk I listen to the radio. Last year I listened to Jian Ghomeshi interview the poet, writer, activist Maya Angelou. She has perspective. Maya Angelou was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She eloquently spoke about how she felt to be awarded this medal. She said that she accepted this honour on behalf of the African Americans who travelled in terrible conditions on slave ships, of those who suffer the indignity of poverty, of native Americans, of immigrants and all who came to the America as she said, “Traveling on a nightmare, praying for a dream.” (CBC Radio, Q)

 “Traveling on a nightmare, praying for a dream.” That’s where the disciples found themselves. Since Friday they’d been traveling on a nightmare. They had lost sight of hope and couldn’t find a dream to pray for. They had given up everything to follow Jesus and now he was dead and along with that all their hopes. They were living in constant fear of persecution. They killed Jesus would they be next? But they were also praying for a dream. They knew the tomb was empty – the women had told them all about it. Could it be true?

            “But we had hoped...” they said to Jesus who meets them in their pain and confusion. He walks with them. He listens to their story. Then Jesus interprets scripture for them beginning with Moses. That seven miles flies by – their hearts burning within them. Not wanting to part with this stranger, they plead with him saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is nearly over.”  (Luke 24:29) The two found something in this stranger and that want more of it. They urge him to stay.

            Jesus agrees. He sits at the table with them surrounded by the food of everyday life bread and wine. Jesus takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and gives it to them. In that moment, their eyes are opened, and they see Jesus for the first time since their journey began. He is risen! All the pain that came with confessing “But we had hoped he was he one...” Luke 24:21) gone. With the sorrow and confusion lifted, the two fly back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the disciples.

            The same is true for us. When we find ourselves lost and confused, when we’re “traveling on a nightmare,” when the words “but I had hoped” are continually on lips, Jesus meets us on the road, Jesus finds us where we are and stays with us. That is the promise of faith. Faith does not provide us with miracle cures or instant fixes to life’s problems. The promise of faith is that we won’t be alone as we do. The promise of faith is that there is always reason to hope. The promise of faith is that new life always has the final word. With Jesus at our side the hard stuff becomes easier to face.

The journey each one of takes through the days, weeks, months and years of our lives are filled with ups and downs, twists and turns but it begins with one step in faith. In the journey of life there is always reason to hope because the blessed stranger, Jesus, meets us on the road of life reminding us, in the words of our creed: “We are not alone we live in God’s world. Thanks be to God” Amen.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

"Living Witnesses"

            Many years ago now I attended a youth event and my home group leader had each one of us close our eyes. She asked us to imagine holding the hand of the person who taught you about your faith. Then to imagine that person holding the hand of their teacher in faith and so on down through the ages until through this long line of witnesses you are holding Jesus’ hand. This image of somehow holding Jesus’ hands across the generations is a powerful reminder that each one of us in our own way is called to bear witness, to be a living witness to the love that we find in Jesus.

            That’s what drew in the disciples in after all. Simon, James and John were going about their business – cleaning the nets from last night’s fishing trip. When Jesus interrupts their routine and climbs into the boat. He didn’t call to them from a distance.  He didn’t wave his hands and shout “what are you doing?” He walks out the place where the boats are, asks him to put the put just off shore and he climbs into Simon’s boat. No introductions or normal pleasantries he just climbed into the boat.

            What would you do if a stranger walked up to you and climbed in your boat? I’d start yelling, “What do you think that you are doing? Get out of my boat.” But that’s not what happened. Jesus started teaching the crowds from Simon’s boat. And Simon said nothing about it. Then when Jesus was done teaching the crowds, he says, “Simon, put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  (Luke 5:4) I can’t figure out why Simon didn’t say, “Are you out of your mind? I’m not going out into the deep water. I worked all night and caught nothing. And now you want me to put my nets out in broad daylight when the best time for catching fish has passed?”

            Simon stares at Jesus. Jesus says nothing. He waits. Simon finally says, “If you say so, I will let down the nets.” And when he does the nets are full to bursting and he called his friends to help him. Even so they filled two boats so full that they almost sank. That’s the second miracle of the day. The first one was when they didn’t tell Jesus to take a hike. He disrupted their routine and their lives. And it doesn’t stop there. Simon can’t believe what has just happened so he throws himself at Jesus saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful!” (Luke 5:8) Then Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Then another miracle – they brought their boats to shore, left everything and followed Jesus.

            It is an amazing story and in this one story Jesus shows us all that we need to know about discipleship. Step one – go to where the people are. Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to come to him. He gets into the boat with them. It brings new meaning to the expression “we’re in the same boat.” Step Two: Tell the story.  We don’t know what Jesus said to the crowds that day but it must have been powerful words of hope and of God’s abiding love. Step Three: do something amazing – Jesus told the disciples to drop their nets and they filled up two boat loads of fish. Step four: Encouragement. Simon can’t believe what just happen with all the fish so Jesus says “Don’t be afraid.”  Step five: A new identity. Jesus gives Simon, James and John a new identity. “from now on you will be catching people”

            From Jesus’ example we have the necessary steps for being living witnesses to the good news. It is not a “no fail five step process” to discipleship but it points us in the right direction. Are we going to get all five steps all the time? Not likely because not one of us is Jesus. That is why we are part of a congregation, members of the body of Christ each individual sharing their unique gift to make the process complete. Each of one of us can do something. Some of us excel at meeting people where they are and getting in the boat with them. Some people are story tellers and can change lives with their stories. Others do amazing things that open people’s eyes to living their lives following Jesus. Some people excel at encouragement and others at helping form new identities as disciples of Christ.

            Since Jesus’ time people have been using their gifts whatever they may be to be living witnesses to the good news that is ours in Jesus Christ . Paul says it so well when he writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1) Each generation is a living witness to the next as it hands on the story of the one who died to give us new life by doing exactly what Jesus did going to where the people are, telling the story of faith, doing something amazing, encouraging people and offering them a new identity in Christ.

            This week Eric was telling me how his father was a lay reader in his church in Main Point and he learned by following his father’s example. I’m guessing that one thing Eric learned was how to encourage others because Eric excels at encouragement. Lloyd Brown told me this week that one of Eric’s greatest gifts to Cochrane Street was how he encouraged the involvement of lay people in the life of the church especially worship. I know that even before I started working here, Eric encouraged me in my ministry and shared with me his wisdom. It is not just me but countless others have told me of his support in difficult times and his encouragement. Eric bears witness to his faith in his words that encourage and lift up.

            Through his encouragement Eric is a living witness to the good news. Today we honour Eric as our minister emeritus but we all in our own way are living witnesses to the good news. Each one of us is called to share our gifts. Maybe one day someone will imagine holding your hand in the long line teachers that begins with Jesus. As we boldly proclaim our faith and live it out in our homes, our communities and in our world, Jesus guides us along the way. Can you hear Jesus whispering in your ear, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” Amen.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

May 19th Sermon "Happy Birthday Church"

            Today is the Feast of Pentecost, and the birthday of the church. It is one of my favourite days in the church year and not because red is my favourite colour or because we can have cake in church. I love Pentecost because of the drama and because without this day the church, and I don’t mean The United Church of Canada or Cochrane Street United Church, I mean the church universal would not exist. Without Pentecost no one would have been brave enough to tell the stories of Jesus Christ.

            Let me take you back in time, after creation, after the flood the people of the world spoke one language. They were united not only by language but a common purpose – to build a tower to the heavens. But as the people built the tower higher and higher, they forgot why they began in the first place. They lost sight of God and began to think that they were better than anyone else working on the tower. They even began to think that they could do this work better than God could. Slowly but surely the arguments broke out and groups formed. Each group believed it was better than the other. And the tower began to crumble. Instead of one language there were many languages and the people scattered around the world.

            Fast forward thousands of years to a stable in Bethlehem. The birth of Jesus is not us building a tower up to the heavens but God coming to dwell among us. The birth of Jesus marks a new beginning in our relationship with God. Without Jesus’ birth, there would be no ministry, no teaching, no preaching, no death and no resurrection. In short no reminder of God’s love for us. The Godly Play Story of the Holy Family finishes this way, “Here is the little baby reaching out to give you a hug. He grew up to be a man and died on the cross. That is very sad, but it is also wonderful, in an Easter kind of way. Now he can reach out and give the whole world a hug. He is not just back then, in this place or that place. He is everywhere and in every time.”

With Jesus’ birth something new begins but it is not complete until the day of Pentecost. The first Pentecost begins with the disciples locked in a room filled with fear. It was not that long ago when the crowds were waving palm branches, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  But all too quickly the cheering turned to “Crucify him, crucify him.” The disciples learn that following Jesus comes with a price and for Jesus the price was a cruel death on the cross. After Jesus’ death the disciples were afraid. They locked themselves in rooms. They whispered quietly amongst themselves about seeing Jesus – like the day Mary came running in saying, “I have seen the Lord.”  But they spoke of it no one other than the trusted group of insiders. They were terrified to mention Jesus’ name in public places for fear that they might die like he did.

            Even in their fear they felt Jesus’ presence. Two saw him walking on the road to Emmaus. Jesus appeared in the room and invited the disciples to touch him. They even followed Jesus up to the Mount of Olivet where he was lifted up to be with God. Even with Jesus so close, even though they know he lives, they are afraid to say the name of the one who changed their lives.

            Every day they gathered behind locked doors for prayers. Sometimes Peter gave a message. And then they left to go about their daily lives. Until the day that changed everything. On the day of Pentecost the disciples and other believers were gathered together in one place. When all of a sudden the wind blew open the doors and filled the whole house. Divided tongues as of fire appeared and rested on them. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and could speak in all the languages of the world.

            It was with the gift of the Spirit that the disciples found the courage to take the message of Jesus from behind locked doors and out in the world. Peter says it best, “Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” People were amazed and confused because they heard the news in their own language. The message that they heard was the message of God’s love. The message they heard was that Jesus died to give us new life. The church was born that day when the Spirit blew open those locked doors and locked lips. The church was born that day as the disciples shared the story of Jesus’ life, his death and his resurrection.

            Today we may hear this story and chalk it all up to a fanciful tale. Who has heard of the Holy Spirit blowing open doors? Or divided tongues as of fire resting on people and helping them to speak. But just because we can’t rationally explain the mystery of Pentecost does not meant it isn’t true. Something powerful and amazing happened to give the disciples the courage to share the good news. If those disciples had stayed afraid, remained behind locked doors then we would not know the stories of Jesus and be sitting here today. Something amazing happened.

David R. Henson in his blog “Edges of Faith” writes: “On Pentecost day, God spoke outside the walls of temple religiosity and outside the halls of political power. God spoke in the streets. The divine voice manifested in all languages and in all peoples, not just in the imperial Latin of the Roman occupiers who conquered the promised land and not just in the language of the religious elite who restricted access to God with oppressive temple taxes. Rather, God spoke in the vernacular of the everyday and the everywhere. On Pentecost, God gives the divine voice to the languages of a bunch of nobodies and a crowd of commoners. It is an act of liberation, both for humankind and for God.” ( )

On this day of Pentecost in 2013, how will we follow in the footsteps of those early disciples who took the message of new life in Christ out from behind locked doors and into the streets? It is not easy, in fact it can be downright scary to boldly share the message of Jesus. I confess that when I meet new people I avoid the topic of my profession and my faith. I lead with mother, wife and not “I am a United Church minister and disciple of Christ.” It can be scary. It is uncomfortable.

But if the disciples had let fear stop them, then we would not be sitting here today. I invite you to join me in letting go of that fear and start to tell the stories of the one who changes our lives and calls us to be in the world sharing love, hope and the promise of new life with others. We won’t be the first and we certainly won’t be the last. We find ourselves in the good company of those who’ve gone before us in faith and those who will come after us.

Let us pass on to a new generation of believers the life giving, life altering, life-saving message of Jesus in ever new ways. The disciples had to learn new languages. Maybe, just maybe, the Spirit is blowing open the doors of this church, calling us to tell the old story in new ways. Maybe the Spirit is calling us to learn the language of a digital age. The good news blog or posting stories of Jesus on Facebook. Maybe we’ll learn to tweet the good news in a 140 characters. #Pentecost is the breath of God blowing open the locked doors of our lives freeing us to tell the stories of Jesus.  #Jesuslives. Amen.

Happy Birthday Church

Today is the feast of Pentecost. The yearly celebration of the birth of the church and gift of the Spirit. Not the birth of a denomination but the birth of THE CHURCH regardless of denomination. It is the day the disciples who before this were too afraid to talk about Jesus, about his life, his death and most importantly his resurrection began to share the good news. Something amazing started that day and it continues still today as we share the stories of Jesus and how he changes lives. So it is a fitting day to begin my blog and to share my own stories of faith.