Bible Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp
Bible Text: John 2:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp A Quiet Miracle – John 2:1-11 It has been said that Presbyterians are cold and boring people who deny themselves pleasures when it comes to life – at least life in the church. In days gone by, it was believed that solemnity was to be maintained at all costs. Everything done within the church had an air of seriousness not found in other parts of life. Frivolity or anything approaching unbridled joy or enthusiasm was frowned upon. And yet it is clear from the reading in John’s gospel today that even Jesus himself took part in festive celebrations and was not opposed to the serving of wine. Of course we could always contend that the wine served in those days was not as strong as what we have today but the Scripture clearly indicates that it was quite possible to get drunk on the wine being served. Now saying this is not to suggest that we should not show discretion or sensibility when it comes to frivolity or festive celebrations; nor do I mean to suggest that we approach them with reckless abandon; but perhaps we need to ponder how best we can honour God with our lives and still allow ourselves to be joyful and celebratory in our living. Well, I digress; but clearly Jesus was at the wedding of a friend of his mother’s and his new disciples were with him. At this time, Jesus had been quietly gathering followers. Among the new recruits were two of John the Baptist’s followers. One of them, Andrew, then went and brought his brother. The next to join were Philip and Nathanael. As far as we know these were the only ones who were with Jesus at Cana. It is also obvious from the record in the Gospel that Mary was well aware of the powers her son possessed even though he had not ever revealed them in public. Remember that Mary pondered everything that she had heard from God concerning this child and everything that the prophets and the magi had confirmed. If indeed her Son was truly the incarnation of God himself, then it was more than likely – even inevitable – that he could do anything he desired. Her desire was that he use the power he had to help out her friend who had obviously miscalculated either the number of guests that were expected or how much each one would be capable of consuming. Whatever the case, there was a crisis. Mary knew that Jesus was capable of solving the crisis. Her faith in him was great. She instructs the servants to do exactly as Jesus will tell them. He points to jars that are reserved for solely for the rites of purification. In other words, these jars were not just common vessels but vessels to be used for religious purposes. Jesus then tells the servants to fill each to the brim with water. He then proceeds to perform the miracle of turning water into wine – 180 gallons worth. When the servants take the new wine to the steward, he is amazed at the quality. He remarks to the bridegroom how unusual it is to reserve the best wine for the latter stage of the party when many of the guests would not appreciate what they were drinking. But what is so interesting about this story is not the water turning into wine so much as the fact that the servants never disclose to the steward how it came to be; and none of Jesus’ disciples speak of it again. But it makes an impression upon them. Somehow this miracle reveals to them the truth about Jesus. And I think that what makes the difference in terms of this being a true miracles is not the mere turning of the water into wine but that it is the best wine the steward has tasted all night. Jesus not only will do signs that will amaze people, he will do signs that will reveal his desire to not just give people what they need but give them the best he can possibly give. When he heals a blind man, it is not partial sight he gives but full sight. When he heals a crippled man, it is not partial restoration but full mobility. This miracle is meant to announce to the disciples that the one in whom they have put their faith and trust is indeed the Son of God, indeed God Himself in human form and that this person has come to bring full and lasting healing and life to all who will listen and follow. It is also meant to show the disciples that Jesus will act not out of showmanship but out of love and compassion. When it comes to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he is reminding the people of the very mind of Jesus when it comes to sharing the gifts of the Spirit. To receive spiritual gifts is the hope and desire of all Christians. And in fact all of us receive spiritual gifts. But Paul wants the people to be aware of the fact that not everyone will receive every gift and that the gifts are given to us not as a matter of personal pride but as a means of encouraging and building up the people of God. What the Spirit of God gives to one person will not necessarily be given to another. Further Paul is concerned that we might seek to rate the gifts of the Spirit in an attempt to claim that our gift is of more benefit to the community. As tempting as it is to want to show off our gifts and make sure that everyone is ever aware of our wisdom or powers, it is so important to remain mindful of the reason for the gift and the purpose and end to which the gift has been given. When I was a much younger man, I learned a valuable lesson from my friendship with three clergy of various backgrounds. We all came from different religious schools of thought and followed different forms of worship and government but we shared one thing in common – our faith in God as expressed through Jesus. We also firmly believed in the power of the Holy Spirit. I had struggled with the whole notion of the gifts of the Spirit especially when it came to speaking in tongues. It seemed that many people I had met who had that gift made a great show of it and told others that it was a true sign that the Spirit of God was in them. These three friends reminded me that speaking in tongues was just one sign of the presence of God’s Spirit and not even to be counted as the greatest. One of them then said this: “The gifts of the Spirit are not given to us so that we can let them jangle; they are given for the building up of the people of God.” When our gifts become a matter of pride and perhaps arrogance, we lose sight of the reason for the gift of the Holy Spirit from God and the gifts that come with the presence of the Spirit in our lives. How does all this relate to what I said at the beginning of this message? Well, for one thing, we are encouraged to be joyful in our living recognizing that God has given us gifts in order that we may live a full and blessed life. For another, the wedding in Cana and the miracle of the water into wine is a sign that the miracles of Jesus were ever about drawing people to God by opening up to them the best possible path for them in their lives. He did it not for honour or prestige but out of love and compassion. And so we in this time and place are to do what we do as a community of faith not for our honour or prestige but out of love and compassion for one another. It is for each of us to be committed to live this life to the fullest with our God and to encourage others to do the same!
Bible Text: John 1:10-18 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp
Bible Text: HEBREWS 10:5-10 AND Luke 1:39-45 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp
Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp THE MORAL DILEMMA OF CHRISTMAS The Christmas season is one of great hope and promise. As we approach the day we find our thoughts turning more and more to how this time can reflect the love, peace, joy and hope that we find in the story of the baby born in Bethlehem. And as we do so, we probably have given thought to Mary and Joseph and the miracle not only of the way in which Mary conceived the child but how the couple supported one another through this whole episode in their life. True enough, this was the will of God and who would even think of going against the will of God. But stop for a moment and ponder what was being asked of a young couple planning to be married and start a family. They were engaged. They were preparing to start a family but not until after the marriage itself. Suddenly their world changed. Mary needed to come to grips with the fact that she had been chosen to bear the Messiah – the one to be sent from God to save the people from their sins and restore the people’s relationship with God. But the conception of this child was not in the way she would have expected. The child was not just to bear the special mark of God; he was to be conceived with the very seed of God. The man whom she had agreed to marry would not be the father but he would be expected to accept, love and care for this child as if he was his own. Joseph would be the role model for this child of what it meant to be a father and a man and yet know that this child was not really his own. The features of this child’s face, many of his mannerisms would come not from Joseph but from God. Every time he would look on this child, he would not see himself but the face of another. For Mary the experience was different and yet the same. She would see in Jesus features of herself, she would find in him mannerisms that he would pick up from her but she would also clearly see the features of another, one with whom she would share this child and yet one that she could only imagine through her interaction with this child. The Scriptures tell us the story and they do hint at the moral dilemma that both Mary and Joseph faced each in their own way; but the Scriptures really do not plumb the depths of the struggle nor do they really highlight just how important the decision of Mary and Joseph was to the birth of God into this world in human form. For God had decided that he would seek for the assistance of an ordinary human couple in order to accomplish his purpose and he counted on them actually agreeing to be part of his plan. Now what of the parents of Mary and Joseph? How did they respond when they found out that their daughter was pregnant but not by the man to whom she was engaged? Could they really believe her when she told them that an angel had visited her and that the fetus within her was truly a union of God with her? And what of Joseph’s parents? What would be their reaction? Would they be supportive of Joseph in his decision to still marry Mary or would they be feeling that Joseph was a fool for believing her story? Of course the Scriptures are not going to give us a long drawn out description of the dilemma that each of them faced but if we read between the lines, we can begin to appreciate what it meant for them and their families to accept what was happening to them. I called this message the moral dilemma of Christmas because the decision by Joseph and Mary to accept God’s plan to come into this world as a baby born of human and divine parentage was not the plan that either of them would have chosen for their life. The stigma that would be felt by both Mary and Joseph and by their families would have left them with feelings of shame. Such behaviour was not expected nor encouraged. To the others in their village, Mary would be seen as a fallen woman and Joseph would have been fully within his rights to refuse to take her as his wife. But in the end the decision is made and Joseph is determined that he will proceed with his marriage to Mary in spite of the social stigma it might bring and he determines to accept the child growing inside of her and that he will love him as his own. We can be thankful to both Mary and Joseph that they faced their moral dilemma and that they made the decision they did. Their decision not only assured that the baby would have a home in which to grow but also assured that the child would grow without the stigma that could have been attached to him. To everyone who knew him, he was the son of Mary and Joseph. Only when he began his ministry did the full story come out of who he was and how he came to be. Certainly Mary and Joseph knew the truth and so did their families but the secret – as with so many other things – remained in the heart of Mary. While the circumstances of Jesus’ birth are certainly unique in some ways, there are ways in which the birth reflects the reality for so many children in this world. In the gospel of John, the author reflects on the many ways that people can be born in this world. He recognizes that not all of us are born in a home with two parents who are married to each other. But he reminds us that however we come to be in this world, whatever the circumstances of our birth, whatever the moral implications of our birth in the eyes of the world or our society, each of us is a child of God; each of us is loved and cared for by God. Each of us is of great value in the eyes of God. The Celtic view of our faith is highly influenced by the apostle John. And as we learned while studying the Celtic tradition there is a strong belief that every child born bears the mark of God himself and that to gaze on a newborn baby is to look on the face of God. None of us chose how we came into this world and people can’t always control the circumstances under which children are conceived but we can make the decision to support and care for all children. Let us be thankful that the moral dilemma of Christmas in which the fate not only of one child but indeed of the whole world rested on the response of one young couple was answered with faith and love. May their response encourage us in our own moral dilemmas – whatever they may be! AMEN
Bible Text: Isaiah 64 1-9 and Mark 13:24-37 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp An Early Morning Prayer Last week I spoke to you about how without the middle part of the life of Jesus, we would be left with a biography like a tombstone. There would be a date of birth and a date of death. We might learn that his birth was surrounded by great expectations and signs and we might learn that his death was not only horrible but probably not even a just death. Beyond that, there would be precious little to encourage us to see him as the Saviour, the one to guarantee the forgiveness of our sin by his blood. There would be precious little to cause us to believe that God had indeed been present in the form of Jesus and encourage us to live our lives both for this time and the future. I also spoke to you about how the people in the churches in Asia Minor were finding their enthusiasm flagging as they waited for the day of the return of the Lord. Life in the middle between the ascension of Christ and his promised return was getting long. The apostle John encouraged them to remember that all things will come to pass as God has ordained. But in the meantime we are to remain faithful to the God who has been, is and always will be faithful to us and all the people who have, do and will follow the path of God in Christ. But we all need something in our lives to give us focus. For many people the focus is found in a time of devotion at the beginning of the day. Over the years I have had a number of morning rituals to prepare myself for the day ahead. For about 10 years now I have found myself drawn more to the ancient tradition of the Celtic church and the strong connection that they felt between God, themselves and all creation. The sense of hope, peace and connectedness that I discovered has continued to support me day by day. And while there are prayers for early morning, morning, evening and night, I find that I mostly pray the early morning prayer but I need to make a habit of the night prayer as well. I usually arise around 6 in the morning and go to my office which is my work and prayer space. My time with God begins by standing and repeating the following: “As the morning sun brings light to the world once more, I come in prayer to you, my Lord. You created me and you know me. I am your child.” Before I even ask for anything in prayer, I recognize that the coming of the sun heralds a new day for me to remember my relationship to and with God. I recognize that for me I understand God to have created me and I acknowledge that he knows me. I accept that I am one of his children. Then follows the prayer which you have heard me recite on more than one occasion. The first thing I ask for is guidance and help. The next thing I ask for is courage, courage to face the problems that lie ahead. I have no doubt that there will be problems and I have no doubt that some of them will take more courage to face and deal with than others. The next thing I ask for is a heart wide open to the joys God has prepared for me. It is not easy to approach life with an open heart but without an open heart it becomes difficult to receive any joys for a closed heart only sees sorrow and hurt. But I believe that God has prepared for me to find joy and so with an open heart I can recognize it and receive it when it comes. Only when I have asked for courage and an open heart can I begin to think of asking for forgiveness of my many sins. But I seek forgiveness of my many sins so that I can begin the day anew. The prophet Jeremiah in his book entitled Lamentations reminded the people that the mercy of the Lord fresh each day. God truly does not hold anything against us except what we choose to let be held. Asking for forgiveness in the morning is an opportunity for us to recognize that the grace, mercy and kindness of God are there to be received. But forgiveness is a two way street; and so the purpose of asking for forgiveness for my many sins is so I can learn to be forgiving and compassionate to others in return. The purpose of going through this exercise in prayer is so that I can better serve God in a way that is right and pleasing to God in all that I do and all that I say. That is what I long for but it doesn’t mean I will always get it right. And while that is the main prayer that I pray I then ask for a blessing of God. I seek to bind unto myself the strong name of the Trinity by asking for: “The love of the Father who made me, The love of the Son who died for me, The love of the Spirit who dwells within me, To bless me and keep me.” I then go through an action that reflects the ancient Celtic belief in the thin veil that exists between heaven and earth. As a mark of the Trinity which I have asked to bless me, I then draw 3 circles around myself with the index finger of my right hand held high and say: “May the angels of Heaven protect me this day and circle me with the fragrance of peace. May Christ my Lord and loving friend protect me this day and circle me with affection and love. May the Spirit of truth who dwells in my heart protect me this day and circle me and fill me with joy.” I then close my prayer time with this affirmation: “My Father, I am your child. I go forth in your name. Keep me safe. There’s no magic in this prayer but there is power, as much power as I am willing to accept and acknowledge. The purpose of my sharing this with you today is to encourage you as you live in the middle of your life in this time to find your meaningful way of recognizing and remembering and living your relationship with God.
Bible Text: Revelation 1: 4 b-8 and John 18:33-37 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Let’s be honest with ourselves. The last thing we expected to hear when we came to church today was a reading from the Gospel of John – especially one that is from John’s account of the trial of Jesus. Seems out of place with the time of year we are in. After all, we are starting to prepare ourselves for a more joyous event in the Christian calendar – that being Advent followed by Christmas and the Epiphany. None of those celebrations are what we could call downers. In fact every one of them is filled with the gifts of the season – hope, joy, love and peace. Yet here we are faced at the end of the official church year with a passage of Scripture that heralds that final significant event in the life of Jesus Christ. It’s as if we have skipped the middle and gone right from the miracle of birth to the catastrophic event of the crucifixion. Surely there is a better way for us to prepare for the coming weeks than to be reminded of one of the darkest moments in the chronicle of the Christian faith. And yet there is good reason for this passage to be here. We are a people who are living in the middle. We are a people who love to be reminded of the birth of Jesus Christ and yet do not necessarily want to be reminded of the death of Jesus Christ. But to be reminded of Christ’s death at this time of year as the trees lose their leaves and we get ready for the coming winter is probably a good thing because it reminds us that while the birth in Bethlehem may be seen as the beginning of our new life with God, the crucifixion is not the end. In fact the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus becomes the new beginning for the people of God. It puts us once again at a place where we are living life in the middle. All of life is truly lived in the middle, is it not? Each of us has a moment of birth and each one of us will have a moment of death. Along the way we will experience other moments of significance but most of our life will be lived in the middle. And even though we focus so much of our attention to moments in the life of Christ, it is that life in the middle that really gives meaning to everything that happens at the beginning and at the end. It is all the encounters Jesus has with people as he journeys through the land and it is all the lessons he imparts through different situations that shapes and gives meaning to his coming into this world and his departure from this world. Taken in isolation, the moment of his birth would simply stand as a fact in history just as any other fact. His death would simply stand as a statistic recorded in a book of ancient writings. His resurrection might not have even made an impact. After all, if all Jesus was remembered for was being born and dying, his story would be not unlike the story of anyone else who walked the earth. What gives real meaning to his life and his death and even his resurrection is the life he lived in the middle – the life he shared with those who were living their middles with him. And as much as the coming season of Advent and Christmas may give us warm fuzzies and fill us with a sense of hope and mystery; as much as our reflection on the crucifixion of Christ may give us shudders as we reflect on the cruelty of that act; it is only as we live our lives between and around these events that we will find real meaning and purpose. We need to remember the season of Advent and Christmas throughout the year just as we need to remember the season of Lent and Easter. There needs to be a middle - a connection between the seasons from both sides. That is why we have this reading from John. But what of our reading from Revelation? This reading is the beginning of a most curious letter. It stands in the genre of literature known as Apocalyptic which simply means literature that speaks of a future time or end time. It paints a picture of what the future will be for the people of God and the world in general. But the Revelation of John is different in that it does not just speak of future things; it also very clearly speaks about the present. John ties together present and future as he addresses the seven churches in Asia. He does this because he knows that while the people in the churches have a future hope that they are looking for and preparing to receive, they also need to be fully alive in the present time. They cannot simply sit back and wait for the second coming of Jesus to put all things right. They need to recognize and live their life in the middle. Their middle is like our middle for them; like us they lived in that time between the resurrection of Jesus and the second coming. They faced the daily, weekly and even yearly challenges of life as Christians expecting the coming of the Lord. Perhaps they lived with even more expectation as the last words of Christ seemed to herald a quick return. But even they were beginning to become weary of waiting. As humans we can only hold our excitement for so long. Have you ever been part of a surprise party? Gathering for the event in order to surprise someone you know well can be a wonderful thing but if the person gets delayed for too long, the excitement can begin to fade and we can even lose interest. John knows that life has lost its excitement for the people in the churches. The expectation of Christ’s return has been so anticipated that they were on high alert. But time has been passing and nothing has happened. How to keep the excitement going? All John can do is to encourage them to keep the faith, to keep believing that their commitment to God in Christ is not in vain. He encourages them to maintain their hope for Christ’s return by reminding them that the love of God in Christ is ever there. He encourages them by reminding them that they are a part of God’s kingdom and that even though the time seems long, they should not lose hope. Using the Greek alphabet – which they all would be familiar with – he reminds them that as alpha stands at the beginning of the alphabet and Omega stands at the end, so Jesus who is the very creative Word of God from the beginning of time is also the same Word of God that will be there at the end. The life they live in their middle is bookended by God Himself in Jesus Christ. It is for them to live their lives in the middle assured that the same God who began all things will be there at the end of all things. They are to be assured that the same God who appeared in this latter time as a child in Bethlehem living, teaching, and healing is the same God who will come again. He is the Alpha and the Omega; he is the beginning and the end; but he is also the middle. He will be with us through it all so that we can live our lives now in the middle of this time with hope and strength and grace! AMEN.
Bible Text: Hebrews 10: 11-14, 19-25 and March 13: 1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp The letter to the Hebrews is filled with much imagery that comes from the people of Israel and their places of worship and worship practices. For us today these practices and the buildings in which they were offered seem an eternity away from where we are today. Even if we read about the Temple in Jerusalem and learned something of the rituals practiced in the Temple, I am sure that it never really made a great impression on us as something that was vital to helping us understand what God’s incarnation in Christ meant and how that forever changed the rituals of faith. Over the centuries religious practice among the people of Israel had evolved from a simple tent to a permanent temple. The people had gone from finding God wherever they wandered to believing that the presence of God resided in one place and that was in Jerusalem. And even though the exile had shown them that God could indeed be found anywhere, there was still the strong belief that only in Jerusalem could God be properly and fully honoured and worshiped. Jerusalem was the heart of the faith. It was the royal seat of the kings of Judah and it was the place where the High Priest – the most important religious leader of the people – resided. Along with the other priests and servants, the High Priest presided over and was responsible for the religious life of the people. It was his responsibility to ensure that all things were done decently and in good order and that God would remain the ally of the people. To that end, the people would come and make their sacrifices according to the prescriptions laid down in the law as they sought to honour God and pray that God would remember them and protect them. And while the offering of sacrifices to God was a daily ritual, there was one day on which the nation would ask for forgiveness from God for its sins individually and collectively. This day is the Day of Atonement. That day is still kept by Jewish people. I remember my friend Larry telling me of this day and how he was expected to visit everyone against whom he had sinned and ask for their forgiveness. In the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, this was the one day of the year that the High Priest could enter into what was the inner sanctum of the Temple – the Holy of Holies. On that day the High Priest and only the High Priest – provided that he was free from all blemishes himself – on that day he would go behind the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple and offer a special sacrifice on the behalf of the nation. The hope was that the sins of the past year would be forgiven and a new year could begin with a clean slate. But as often as the people made their sacrifices and as often as the High Priest visited the Holy of Holies on an annual basis, the people and the nation never felt that full assurance that indeed their sins were forgiven and that all was right between them and God. As close as they may have felt to God, there still was this gap. And when we consider that the High Priest needed to be physically perfect before even he could begin to ritually ask for the people’s sins to be taken away, we begin to understand how people could believe that only our perfection could bring us into the presence of God. But the author to the Hebrews reminds the people of an event connected to the death of God in Christ. On the day of the crucifixion, at the moment of death, it is said that the curtain in the Holy of Holies was torn apart. For the first time anyone could look into the Holy of Holies. That place wherein only the High Priest had been able to enter to stand in the presence of God now was open to all. The author to the Hebrews reminds the people that the torn curtain was a sign that no longer would there be a barrier or division between God and the people. No longer would the people need an intermediary to seek forgiveness for their sins. In fact the people could now be assured not only of the forgiveness of their sins for today and even this year but forgiveness of their sins for eternity. But it wasn’t just the act of forgiveness that was signalled by the tearing of the curtain. It was a sign that God was no longer to be feared but to be embraced. It was a sign that God was no longer distant and isolated from the people but that now the people could gaze on the glory and face of God and live. Those who had been alive and met God in Christ as He walked on the earth and even those who had not met God in Christ in that time could be assured not only of the forgiveness of God for their sins, not only be assured that God loved and cared for them but they could also be assured that they could approach to the very throne of God without fear and look on His face and live. Certainly this was a great revelation to a people who for so long had felt God to be anything but close and loving. The relationship which was now open to them was one in which they could see God as a loving parent, as a good friend, as a trusted companion. All the barriers between them were gone. They were now invited to enter into that most inner place where God was thought to dwell and encounter a Person whose true heart was one of love and mercy. That’s the truth which the author to the Hebrews is seeking to impress upon the readers of his letter. But it seems that many of them have lost the vision of what God had done in Christ. They had begun to doubt that it was real and their hope that truly God had accomplished an everlasting forgiveness of sin had begun to wane. Many of them had begun to question the value of their weekly meetings for worship. Their community and their lives were losing purpose and meaning. Hold on, says the author; hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. When our life in Christian community becomes simply keeping the faith, doing the ritual, maintaining the shell, we lose the real reason for why we are here. Certainly we are here for ourselves but we are also here for one another. We are here to reveal the love of God to one another. We are here to care for one another, to be kind and merciful to one another. We are here to encourage one another as we seek to live a new life that has come to us from God in Christ. Our challenge is not to just hold on to that new life in Christ but to grasp that gift and live it as best we can knowing that no one of us lives for ourselves. We live for one another. I remember one of the first lessons I learned in choir was this. If you are not singing a solo, you should not be heard above the others. A choir is to be one voice even if it be composed of 10 or 20 or 100 or more. So we in this community are many and yet we too need to be one voice for we share a common faith, a common baptism, and a common life. May God richly bless us as we seek to be a community of His people in this place and may we not just hold on to our faith in God but grasp it and live it in word and action! AMEN
Bible Text: Hebrews 9:24-28 and Mark 12:38-44 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp, Reverend Bruce W. Kemp OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE This is a day that in our churches we set aside as a time of remembrance. It is a tradition that has been maintained for close to 100 years. It is a tradition that saw its beginnings with the end of a war that came to be known as World War 1. Of all the conflicts known to the modern era of history, this was the first war that effectively engulfed the whole world. And while it essentially was fought in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, it changed the landscape of the world. Unfortunately, it did not satisfy all conflict and there have been many wars to follow it. But for large parts of our world today, war is something we read about on our computers and perhaps see images of but have little personal contact. For others – even in our community – war in our present day is something which continues to be very real. And while they may not personally live in the midst of that conflict, they deal with the pain and suffering of those who have chosen to be part of the solution to conflicts in various parts of the world. Often I was asked why a man of the cloth would even consider being a chaplain in the armed forces. For many people it seemed like a contradiction. In their minds, they had images of the chaplain blessing guns and condoning death and destruction; but the reality is far from that. The reality is that the chaplains are there to provide spiritual comfort and counselling to men and women who are asked to face situations that we can never imagine and help them to make sense of the crazy world in which they find themselves. And while as chaplains, we are not allowed to use weapons, we would find ourselves exposed to many of the situations that those who are armed face and may even face many of the same dangers. And so we have taken time this morning to remember not only the sacrifice of those who died in the major conflicts of the past century as well as the conflicts of this century, but to remember all those who came home and have had to live with the memory of what happened to them and to their comrades. We remember the families of those who served and are serving. We remember the civilians caught in the places of conflict, those who have died and those who have lived. As a nation and as a people our responsibility to those who served cannot end when they come home. All of us carry baggage from our lives; our experiences shape who we are and who we become. For those who experience severe traumatic experiences, the baggage can be more oppressive. And just as we know that emotional, mental and physical baggage cannot be just dropped like a sack of potatoes, so for those who served the baggage often hangs on. In our lives as Christians, we carry not only emotional, mental and physical baggage, we also carry spiritual baggage. The interactions that we have as a community of faith bring to us challenges that touch mind, body, heart and spirit. And we can carry that baggage with us from place to place. For many of us we will spend a lifetime trying to find a place to deal with the baggage that we have picked up. One of the struggles we have is finding an appropriate place to unpack that baggage. Nobody likes the experience of opening their suitcase at the airport to repack. Our life is exposed to the world. True enough, most of us will find the same items in all our bags but we may have something different or special, something that we have kept hidden in our bag, something that maybe even those closest to us now have no idea. Unpacking our baggage in a safe place with people we trust is something for which we all hope. What I am speaking about is finding a place and/or a person with whom we can unpack that baggage and begin to lighten our load. When we come to a place of worship, we may have an expectation that we can open our spiritual baggage. We may believe in our heart and mind that this is a place where we can lighten our load and find that peace of spirit that we seek. We may believe that we will be able to find forgiveness and healing for the hurts that we carry. I put it that way because too often our expectations are not reflected in the reality of what we find. In my first congregation there was a lady who was faithful to worship but never attended communion. When I asked her why, she replied that she was not worthy to come to the table because she was not perfect in her life. Often we judge ourselves or others harshly for the sin in our life. We struggle to be perfect but realize all too often that perfection is beyond us. For some this realization ends in despair as they come to believe that they are beyond redemption and that they will ever be known by their sins. The author of the letter to the Hebrews knew all too well the struggles of the people to whom his letter was written. He knew that they were not perfect people and that their struggle to be perfect – as so often they believed they need to be – would lead many of them to despair of any future with God. They feared that God would only love them if they were so perfectly following the lead of Christ. And often we have brought that kind of perfection into our communities. Its effect is often to cause many to turn away from God believing that only when they are perfect will God receive them. If that’s the case, I should never feel the hand of God or the voice of God or the Spirit of God in my life. The author to the Hebrews wants us to reflect on the reality of our lives. We will sin, we will carry baggage but we do not need to despair of our sin or be afraid to reveal our baggage. In Christ God has become the mediator between Him and us. The death of God in Christ was to give us freedom from our sins and hope that we will not be afraid to reveal our baggage to Him and to one another. For many the second coming of Christ is seen as judgment but it is a judgment that people will place on themselves. Our sins have been paid for – not only the sins of those alive in the time of the incarnation but the sins of all those who have come into this world since and who will come into this world until the end of God’s time. The second coming of Christ is to receive those who have committed themselves in this life to loving God and striving to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so as we remember this day the human sacrifice of life made by those who died and those who survived that we might live in freedom, let us not forget that sacrifice of God in Christ who not only died for us but lives that He may come again to receive us not in judgment but in love. AMEN