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.