Bible Text: Galatians 1:1-12 and Luke 7:1-10 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp The encounter of Jesus with the centurion in today’s lesson is one that seems simple on the surface. It ends with a statement by Jesus about the faith that he found or didn’t find among the people who had been chosen by God to lead the world back to fullness of life. It comes immediately after the account of the Sermon on the Mount and parables by Jesus highlighting the difficulties we often have seeing what needs to be reformed in our lives while very clearly seeing the problems in others. The centurion was a man who probably worshipped the gods of Rome but it is clear from the account that he was a man who honoured the faith of others. In fact he was a man who showed an ethic which is seldom spoken of when it comes to the Romans. The Roman army is characterized as brutal when it comes to dealing with conquered peoples. And yet here we have an account of a centurion who has found in the Jewish faith and people something which is worthy of his support and care. Remember that for the people of Israel nation and faith are one and the same. At this time in their history, there was still a unity in practice that bound all of them together into one identity. And while there were abuses of power and authority among their leaders, it was obvious to this centurion that there were principles and an ethic guiding these people that was guiding them to maintain their faith and way of life in spite of being a conquered nation. No doubt he was drawn to this; and while he may not have formally become one of them, nevertheless, he had done everything in his power to ensure that they could continue to worship and live as a nation under God. It is even recorded that he went so far as to build a synagogue for them. We are not told where the centurion lived but we are made aware that he came to hear of Jesus from the people of the synagogue and from the elders of that synagogue. He recognized that this person Jesus was an extraordinary person who possessed special abilities. Moreover, he no doubt had heard the words of Jesus through the people and had heard the stories of how he had healed so many from their diseases and afflictions. Faced with the illness of a slave to whom he was very close, the centurion knew that this person Jesus was someone that he could trust to heal his servant. But he was hesitant to go to Jesus himself. No doubt the centurion felt that he would be perceived by Jesus as an enemy of the people. Even his attempts to explain how he had helped the people would fall on deaf ears. The very thought that a perceived enemy of the people of Israel and of God could even presume to be granted the gift of healing for one whom he loved. So the centurion makes his appeal to Jesus through the elders of the people. He sends them in his place hoping against hope that they might be able to convince Jesus to come and heal his servant. And when the elders come, they plead the case of the centurion. The words in the Scripture are few but the import is great. The centurion is not like others. He is a man of compassion and honour. He is one who seeks to be supportive of the people and help them to maintain their faith and their way of life with God. The elders of the people have a genuine affection for this centurion and feel fortunate that he is the one in charge in their area of the country. Their plea works and Jesus decides to go with them. At this point, the centurion becomes aware that Jesus is coming but he still feels unworthy to have Jesus come right to him. After all, it might be thought that Jesus had been forced by the elders of the people to come or else. And so he sends out friends to meet Jesus. Who the friends are we are not sure; but probably they are fellow Romans who are part of the same unit as the centurion. They could be fellow officers or they could even be the people themselves who had gotten to know the centurion on a more personal level and had come to be counted as friends. Now the elders had asked Jesus to come to the centurion’s home and heal his servant which Jesus had agreed to do. But now the friends of the centurion have come to Jesus with a message from the centurion himself asking for Jesus to heal the servant from afar. In spite of all he has done to be supportive of the people of Israel, he feels that he is an outsider – a person not worthy to even be in the presence of Jesus. And yet he knows that a word from Jesus and his servant will be healed. The centurion very clearly is a man under authority himself as well as man of authority. And while he is in a position of authority in the land of Israel, he recognizes that the person whom he has asked to come and heal his servant is one who possesses an authority that he has no right to command. He recognizes that he is neither superior to nor equal with Jesus. Whatever authority Jesus possesses, the centurion is unsure but he is convinced that Jesus is under the authority of one who is greater than any the centurion has ever encountered. Just as a word from his lips causes people to come and go at his command, he knows that a word from the lips of Jesus will be enough to heal his servant. Indeed when the friends return to the centurion’s home, they find that the servant has been healed. It has often been speculated as to whether this was the same centurion who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus and praised God at the moment of Jesus’ passing and declared that this was an innocent man. And while that is speculation, there is no denying that the faith of the centurion was something of which Jesus took note. Here was someone for whom the God of the people of Israel was an unknown, a mystery. This was a God who was outside of his experience. Yet he was one who not only saw in Jesus an authority but an authority in which he could trust and believe. The centurion kept Jesus at a distance. We have explored some of the reasons that may have motivated his decision but I am sure that Jesus would have wanted to come and meet him face to face. Perhaps he did meet him in that last moment on the cross. But one thing of which we can be sure. God will never ignore the prayers and supplications of anyone who will seek him in faith. May we who have a relationship with this God ever remember to invite him into our life; may we ever remember that this God is there not only for us but for all who would seek him; and let us ever remember to listen, trust and believe the words of Jesus for in them is our life, our hope and our peace. AMEN
Bible Text: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp While the Bible never states categorically that the Spirit of truth only appears after the resurrection of Jesus, our history and tradition in the Christian church has seemed to confirm this. Somehow the Spirit of God gets forgotten until Jesus breathes it into the disciples or – following the story as recorded in Acts – it descends on the disciples like tongues of fire and grants them the ability to speak the message of Christ in the languages of the world in which they live. From that story in Acts, the Spirit of God has come to be characterized most closely with what we call spiritual gifts. The gift of speaking in tongues is often viewed as the gift that confirms that the Spirit of God is present in a believer; yet, there are a variety of gifts and all of them are given not for the specific benefit of the believer but for the good of the whole community. Every way in which the Spirit is revealed in the lives of believers is a sign of the presence of that Spirit and when those gifts are used to build up the community of faith they are to be used as true gifts of the Spirit. But is the era after Christ truly the first time that the Spirit of God is made available to the people of God? A careful reading of the Old Testament reveals to us that the Spirit of God not only has always been present in the world but has been available to the people of God through the centuries. Remember what I said last week about the Spirit of God. The Spirit is the creative force in God. It is the inspiration and breath of God. And it is the feminine side of God. Our attempts to view God simply as one form of who we are – while certainly understandable when we examine the majority of the writings we have about God – does not really give us the full picture of the God who has been a part of this world from its beginning. The words of Genesis 1 in which God says that humanity will be created in the image of God both male and female speaks volumes about the God of this world. Truth be told we have no words to express the unity of creation and creativeness that we truly find in God. The very title that God uses to express to humanity who he is does not reveal whether God is male or female: I AM is the great declaration made to Moses. I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jesus echoes this in the passages we have from John’s Gospel and the very utterance of that phrase causes people to drop back in awe and wonder. There is the real sense that they are in the presence of the God of all things. There is no better way to capture the essence of who God is than to say that God is. The imagery that we are given – a Father who loves his children, a Son who is begotten by the Father to be born into the world, to live and die for the sake of the ones called by adoption into the family, and a Spirit that is a gift of both the Father and the Son to guide and lead us in all truth – these images are designed to draw us into a relationship with God that we can identify with and so be able to more clearly understand who God seeks to be for us and how we can be assured that God truly cares for and understands us. But let us go back to looking at the Spirit of God. The book of Proverbs is full of wise advice. And while some things there we may have questions about, the majority of what it says is as valid today as the day it was written. “Wisdom is calling,” one version of the text translates. “Understanding is raising her voice! On the heights along the road, where the paths meet, she is standing; by the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, she cries aloud. People, I am calling you, raising my voice to all mankind.” (Proverbs 8:1-4, The Complete Jewish Bible, tr. by David H. Stern) The image we are given is that the Spirit of God is present with the people of the world; the Spirit is present in places where it is next to impossible to ignore or miss her and yet it seems that people are walking right by. I am sure all of you have experienced that at one time or another. Someone is trying to impart a bit of wisdom to someone or even you but you or the other person act as if nothing is being communicated. We are good at turning a deaf ear to wisdom and obviously we are not the only ones who have ever done it. But I want us to understand today that while the Spirit of God was poured out in a new way – perhaps even a deeper way – the Spirit of God has ever been available to the people of God. And throughout time, it has never been a case where the Spirit of God was absent but rather that people were not willing to listen. The passage from Proverbs speaks to us of how the Spirit that is wisdom has been with God from the very beginning. And while we may want to argue what came first – the Spirit or the Word – in the end what really matters is the intention and design of God in which the Spirit that moved over the face of the abyss and the Word that was spoken brought about the creation we know today and that both the presence of the Spirit and the Word revealed by God in Jesus Christ combine to give us a clear sense of the direction we are to take in life and that we have a spirit of discernment from God to guide us. The passage from Acts is certainly dramatic and its effect on the people on that first Pentecost of the new church was amazing but I still find greater comfort and strength from the way in which Jesus shared the Spirit of truth with the disciples in the upper room. All of us are in need of the Spirit of truth to guide us in our daily lives and to help us with the decisions we are faced with each day. That is the Spirit that Jesus breathed into the disciples; but the Spirit that he granted them was no different from the Spirit of which Solomon spoke in the Proverbs. That Spirit had always been with them for God had always made the Spirit available to the people but Jesus made it real for them in a new way. He emphasized to them that the intention of God had always been to grant us wisdom and discernment to guide our thoughts and actions in ways that would grant us a fuller experience of the life first granted by God in the creation of humanity. In verse 6 it is recorded: “Listen! I will say worthwhile things; when I speak, my words are right.” And in verses 32-34: “Therefore, children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction, and grow wise; do not refuse it. How happy the person who listens to me, who watches daily at my gates and waits outside my doors. For the one who finds me finds life and obtains the favour of the Lord.” (The Complete Jewish Bible, tr. by David H. Stern) May we all be guided daily by that same Spirit that moved over the face of creation, that guided the people of God throughout time, that descended like a dove at the baptism of Jesus, that attended him throughout his ministry, that was with him through his agony and death and that was breathed by the risen Lord into the disciples not to puff them up with pride but to give them a wisdom and a truth that would enable them to go out into the world with a confidence to live as the people of God!
Bible Text: Romans 8:14-17 and John 14:8-17 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp This is Pentecost Sunday. This is the day in the Christian calendar when the traditional reading for the day is Acts chapter 2. This is the account of the coming of the Holy Spirit that most captures the imagination and the emotion of so many Christians. The outpouring of the Spirit upon the apostles gathered in that upper room leads to a proclamation of the good news of what God did through Jesus Christ in all the known languages of that time. The scene led many to believe that somehow the disciples were possessed. But while the outpouring of the Spirit of God has been discerned by many in this way – marked by a granting of the ability to speak in tongues, the Gospel of John highlights another important aspect of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God is often described in the Old Testament as the spirit of wisdom, understanding and discernment. But in the Old Testament, the Spirit never comes as a stand alone part of God. It is ever an intimate part of who God is. In fact there is a strong sense in the Old Testament that the Spirit of God was ever present whenever God made himself known. Further we need to be cognizant of the fact that the Spirit of God is viewed as the feminine part of God. Every time the people of God sought wisdom from God, God was giving of His Spirit and that Spirit of truth and teaching was seen as the wisdom of a mother who trained her children in the ways they were to grow. It is quite interesting to note that while the leaders of the people of Israel were predominantly male, the women of the nation were often seen as a repository of wisdom. It is also interesting to note that while we have inherited a strong sense that God is male, there are many attributes of God that reveal a feminine side. It can very easily be argued that in God there is both male and female in perfect balance. It definitely makes picturing God as an old man with a beard a little more difficult. The only physical representation we have of God is what people have imagined Jesus to look like. Outside of the coming of God in Jesus, the other ways in which God appears to the people are not in human form except for the visitation of angelic beings that appear in our likeness. God is truly the unity of our humanity. Paul even states that in Christ there is neither male nor female for there is a unity of being in God that transcends the differences with which we are born. And so while the differences between us as male and female are visible to us as humans, the differences blur and even disappear as we move deeper into our relationship with God. And through this movement, we come to a place where the love with which God loves us becomes the love with which we love each other. But let us get back to John’s Gospel and Jesus’ prayer that the Spirit of God will come to the disciples. The beginning of chapter 14 contains words that are often spoken at funerals. They are meant to be words of assurance in the face of the uncertainty that death brings to our lives. We then skip to the part where Jesus gives his peace to the disciples. What we always skip is the part where the disciples are struggling with what is going to happen to them in the meantime. It is all well and good to have an assurance from Jesus about the future time and to know that he is going to prepare a place for them and return for them to take them there; but what of the present? How are the disciples going to cope with living the message of Jesus in this present time and until the time of Jesus’ return? After all the disciples are being asked by Jesus not to just remain as a small dedicated community who are called to love one another as Jesus has loved them. They are to be visible in the world and let that love of Jesus be a sign to the world that the message of God in Christ is real and that people can indeed live the life God has revealed. Jesus then goes on to tell them that they will do the works that he did and that they will do even greater. Imagine the fear and trepidation in their minds. They can probably barely even consider that they could emulate the works of Jesus let alone surpass them. And yet Jesus seems to have great faith in them. If only they love him and keep the commandments he has given them, they will be fine. But Jesus does not want them to feel that his departure will leave them helpless and without a companion to guide them. And so he says to them that he will pray the Father to give them another Counsellor to be with them for ever. This Counsellor will be the Spirit of truth that will come from the Father in response to the prayer of the Son. We have come to know this Spirit of truth as the Holy Spirit. We consider it to be the third revelation of the person of God but in reality this is the same Spirit that had moved over the face of creation; it is the same Spirit that had guided the patriarchs and prophets of old; it is the same Spirit that was present with Jesus in his conception, at his baptism and that had attended him throughout his ministry. And while in this moment, the Spirit of truth is just a promise, we know that after Jesus’ resurrection and at his appearance to the disciples in the upper room, he was able to fulfil the prayer that he prayed. And as a sign that the Father and he are indeed one, the giving of the Spirit of truth comes through the breath of Jesus flowing from him to the disciples. As he breathed, the Spirit came into their bodies and filled them. No tongues of fire, no miraculous outbursts in foreign tongues, no great fanfare; the granting of the Spirit is done in a quiet way between the Master and the disciples, between the One who loved them and the ones who loved him in return. The Spirit was given not that they might bring people to faith through spectacle but rather that they be strengthened to reveal the new way of life they had found in Jesus and so be able to speak to others of what they had learned from him. And while many people have experienced that outpouring of the Holy Spirit and received the gift of tongues, every believer can and does receive that wonderful gift of the Spirit that imparts strength, wisdom, hope and peace. John shows us here and continues to show us that the God who created the world, the one who is to all of us a Father and a Mother is the very same one who lived as the man called Jesus; and the Spirit that moved over the face of creation was the same Spirit present in Jesus that was breathed into the disciples. There are no divisions within God and so there are to be no divisions within we who are his people. No matter what we imagine we might be or become, we are to never forget that the new commandment he gave us was that we love one another as he loved and loves us and to follow the path of life he has opened to us knowing that we do not take this journey alone but that the very Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of the Father goes with us wherever we go. AMEN
Bible Text: Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21 and John 17:20-26 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp I have often spoken to you about the disciple called John. He is referred to as the beloved disciple and in his gospel we find so many examples of what the love of God meant to him and to those who encountered God in Jesus in the flesh. John’s gospel is often called the relational gospel. It is in this gospel – more than any other – that we feel the emotion of Jesus in both his moments of great compassion and his moments of great anger. It is also through this gospel that we are reminded often of why God came into the world in the form of Jesus. The most often quoted reference to this is in John 3:16-17: For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son, that everyone who trusts in him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but rather so that through him, the world might be saved. (The Complete Jewish Bible, tr. by David H. Stern) It is God’s great love for this world and its peoples that moves him over and over again to come to the people of Israel and – through Jesus and the Holy Spirit – all peoples of the world. It is God’s love for us that caused him to come in Jesus – to give of himself in a way that he hoped would touch the hearts of all people. He chose to come as a child, as a son, as a first-born son and offer himself to show us that his great desire was ever for a relationship of love and life between him and us. The words of John’s Gospel echo a great angst in God. There appears to be a deep regret over the course of events that led to our separation from God in the Garden of Eden and our present state in which this life ends in death and darkness. God reveals through Jesus that he only wants to receive us home and give to us that light and life that first moved over the face of the creation and that caused us to come into being. The Gospel of John reveals a God who is angry at times, frustrated at times, moved to tears and to the point of despair – all over the struggles, trials and hurts that he personally witnessed in his physical time on earth. And as much as he is God, he is ever willing to be for us a shepherd, a tree in which we can grow, a way for us to follow in this life, a truth that we can trust, and a life that can bring us peace in the midst of any hardship. He wants nothing more than to feed us with a bread that will not only fill our stomachs but also fill any deep longing within our being; he wants nothing more than to give us water that will not only quench our thirst for today but will quench any unsettled thoughts in our minds and hearts and cause all thirst to disappear. As John reminds us in the opening words of his Gospel: To as many as did receive him, to those who put their trust in his person and power, he gave the right to become children of God, not because of bloodline, physical impulse or human intention, but because of God. (John 1:12-13) (The Complete Jewish Bible, tr. by David H. Stern) It is clear that – as far as John is concerned – God was always seeking for reconciliation between himself and humanity. His hope was that through choosing one nation and building a relationship with them that the other nations of the world might come to recognize the One who had set the world in motion and whose desire was for the people to live in peace and to know no pain or suffering. It was his hope that Israel could be that light to the world. And even though the light of God has now widened to include more than just the nation of Israel, we are still struggling with how to be the light that God so dearly wants us to be. We still struggle with letting the light of God shine through us. But that has never stopped God from trying and it never will stop him. But his desire is not to impose that light or love or life on anyone. His desire is to draw us into a relationship with him. Those first disciples who gathered around Jesus came to him not out of fear or a sense that he had come to exact revenge against those who they saw as enemies; rather they were drawn to him by his words, by his demeanour, by his eyes, his touch. Truly it was that very personal sense that he was approachable. They felt in him a true love and compassion for others. As time went by, they were drawn more and more to him and truly understood that he cared deeply for them and for so many others. Today’s passage of Scripture from John’s Gospel is part of the long prayer offered by Jesus before his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. It is a summation of the ministry of Jesus and it is filled with reflections upon the time that Jesus has spent with the disciples. He reflects on the teaching that he has imparted to them and his great concern for them as they will have to move into the future without his physical presence. Certainly Jesus knows that a comforter, a guide will be given to them for the very Spirit of God will be with them. Jesus speaks of these people with great love and concern; but he also is conscious of those who will come after these first disciples. He says: I pray not only for these, but also for those who will trust in me because of their word, that they may all be one. (John 17:20) (The Complete Jewish Bible, tr. by David H. Stern, p. 1353) Jesus is praying for the family. He is praying for those who have become children of God through their trust in the words of God and the One who has come in the name of God not to judge and condemn them but to love and lead them. He is praying for those who are brothers and sisters to him. His concern is for their well-being even at the moment when his impending crucifixion should be uppermost in his mind. This prayer is a reminder to us who trust God and trust in his words that we are to pray for the family as Jesus prayed. We are to remember that each of us who is here in this place has been adopted by God as children; we are to be brothers and sisters to one another; as such we are to ever seek to love one another as best we can; we are to pray for one another and ever seek to show compassion and mercy rather than judgment. We are to ever seek to live at peace with one another by striving to understand each other’s journey through this life and so be able to be supportive to one another as we make our way through this world. Our willingness to open ourselves to new people and new ideas, to welcome new talents and live with one another in love will go far to realising that great hope of Jesus in his prayer. And as we do so, we will learn that being part of the family of God is not just about you or me, your wants or my wants or your needs or my needs, but that it is about all those things and more. For it is about our relationship one to another and the relationship we all have to our God. As God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son that we might trust him, let us so love one another showing that we indeed trust him and trust one another!
Bible Text: Revelation 21:10 and Revelation 21: 22 to 22:5' and John 5:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp The two passages of Scripture for today are both from the hand of the disciple known as the beloved disciple – John. In his Gospel, we have a picture of human suffering that is relieved by the intervention of Jesus and in his Revelation we have a vivid image of a time in the future when all suffering will be past and the only water available will bring healing to all the nations. The pool of Bethzatha was long believed to be a fictitious place invented by John to tell a story of a miraculous healing by Jesus but archaeological work in the 19th century revealed that not only did it exist but that indeed it was recognized by more than the Jewish people as a place of healing. It is located in what today is the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem in the northern part of the city. At the time that the pool was established it was in a new part of the city and so the area came to be known as Bethzatha. The pool was seen as a place of grace and mercy for those who felt the shame and disgrace of the various disabilities and illnesses that brought them there. It is clear from the text that many miracles of healing had taken place at this pool. It is also clear that the movement of the water which preceded any healing was not a regular or frequent event and that only the first one to enter the water received a healing. People would come each day expectantly hoping to be the one that the waters would heal. It also appears that people other than those seeking physical healing visited the pool and it is clear that this was not the first time that Jesus had come to this place. I find it interesting that the lame, blind and paralyzed would visit the pool even on a Sabbath. Obviously they did not believe that God could heal only on 6 days of the week; they were expectant of a miracle regardless of the day. On this particular day when Jesus comes, he sees a man whom he has seen before. We are aware that he has great difficulty moving and that obviously it has taken great effort for him to get there. We are also aware that he has come on his own and has no friends who will stay with him and watch for the movement of the water. The question Jesus asks sounds harsh in a way. Does the man come faithfully to the pool with no expectation of healing? The answer is no. He desperately wants to be healed but his disability makes it impossible for him to get to the water before another; and yet he never loses hope. He consistently and faithfully comes. Jesus has compassion for him and heals him. The man has never given up hope. He has remained optimistic that he will be healed in spite of the challenges he faces. Jesus sees his optimism and hope and gives him the gift he seeks. The man takes up his pallet and walks. The waters of the pool haven’t moved but the living water of Jesus has flowed into the man and he is made well. In his vision of the future Jerusalem, John sees a river that is the water of life. He describes the water as bright and clear as crystal. One can imagine the water glistening and shimmering in the light. There is a clarity to the water that one could never imagine in this world. This living water flows not from an underground spring of undetermined origin but comes directly from the throne of God. This river runs through the middle of the main street of the city and its water brings life to the tree of life. The living water from the throne of God nourishes the tree of life and enables it to bear the fruit appropriate to each season. It is unclear whether there is one tree of life or many trees of life. I have always pictured a boulevard with a river running through its middle. The boulevard is lined on both sides with the trees of life and they are filled with fruit to nourish the bodies of those who have come to dwell in that place. But there is not just one kind of fruit; there is variety – 12 different kinds of fruit. It is a fruit of the month club but not one that you would ever tire of for the fruit brings not just nourishment of body and mind but also brings peace to the spirit. And the trees are not just for nourishment. They are also for the healing of the nations. The leaves themselves possess qualities that will heal the peoples of all nations. John is given a vision of a time when all the nations of the world will find what they need to heal themselves in mind, body and spirit. Perhaps we believe that we are living in a troubled time filled with an uncertain future; John lived in a world that was troubled as well. In fact no generation has truly lived in a world without trouble. We will ever struggle in this world to find total peace until that day when Jesus comes again and ushers in that new heaven and new earth. But while this is our future we can still strive for peace in the present. We may not be able to eradicate hatred or war or prejudice or suffering from our lives but we can do what we can to relieve it. We can make the decision to make a difference where we are. And so the light of God can shine in the world even be it dimly if we let that light shine through us!
Bible Text: John 10:22-30 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Do you hear what I hear? I am sure that that is not what you expected in a sermon title for this time of year. In fact it probably puts you more in mind of Christmas and the image of a little drummer boy standing by a manger. But Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees in today’s gospel got me thinking about why some people hear the voice of God calling them like a shepherd calls the sheep and why others seem to not recognize his voice. Recently I have heard a number of programs on faith that have asked whether or not some people are more predisposed to an experience of the divine. It is an interesting question to ponder as it may help to explain why some people are drawn to an active relationship with God while others want to deny the existence of God altogether. Now I can’t give you a definitive answer on that question but I certainly recognize that the encounters people have with religion and faith seem to have a profound influence on whether or not they choose to have any relationship with God be it inside or outside of an established faith community. As we ponder how people come to even hear the words of Jesus today, we need to remember that the people who heard Jesus speak in the days of his physical ministry on earth were hearing words from the God that had been the God of their parents, grandparents and all the generations as far back as Abraham in recent history. In the person of Jesus, they were hearing again - as if for the first time – words from the lips of Jesus that they found were restoring to them hope and trust. They were beginning to feel once again that the God in whom they had been raised to put their faith was not a God concerned with their material sacrifices for sin as much as he was concerned with the state of them as people – spiritually, mentally and physically. Material sacrifices were certainly welcomed but these needed to be in thankful response to a God from whom the people could feel love and compassion, grace and forgiveness. Through the teaching of Jesus, the people were hearing words which they felt they could truly live by; they were hearing commandments that were not surrounded by the words of lawyers and philosophers and theologians but words that simply made sense. They began to feel hope. Once again they felt unburdened spiritually, mentally and no doubt physically. And this Shepherd whom they were getting to know better each day was one who did not live in a palace or eat food that they could never imagine or travel in circles that were beyond their social class; this was a Shepherd who was not afraid to get close to them or to touch them; this was a Shepherd who spoke as one who was motivated by a desire to be with the people and truly take care of them. This was not a shepherd who was hired to perform a task but one who was the true guardian of the sheep. In another passage John speaks of this relationship by reminding his readers that the hired hand cares not what happens to the sheep when trouble comes but that the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep. When they hear his voice, they will find comfort, hope and peace. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day and those who had come before them had become so concerned with ensuring that the people did everything right in God’s eyes that they left little room for the grace and mercy of God. The bald and straightforward teaching of Jesus with its focus on mercy and grace and forgiveness troubled the Pharisees as they sought to reconcile such teachings with maintaining the glory and righteousness of God. There seemed to be a fear that the people were being encouraged by Jesus to enter into a very personal relationship with God in which every person could hear the voice of God and feel the touch of God. There was a fear that this would lead to a situation where the holiness of God would be diminished and even lead to the end of their authority over the people. It is interesting how throughout history and even today people feel the need to defend the honour of God. Too often the stands we take against those who mock God or defame what we consider to be holy leads to a violence that does not support the truth about our faith. We would be far better off walking the path God seeks us to follow and living the life God revealed through Jesus. But let us go back to this issue of hearing the voice of God. The people in the time of Jesus who heard his voice and responded were people for whom the words of Jesus resonated in their hearts. There was a truth to the words that they found helpful and comforting. In the person of Jesus they found someone who related to where they were in life and who spoke in a language they could understand. I remember back in university when sermons were critiqued by classmates. One of the criticisms I received was that my sermons were too simple; the wording was not complex enough; there was not enough to challenge my classmates theologically. My answer was that I would rather have everything that I was saying understood than have most people walk away puzzled and confused - Paul confuses me; Jesus I get. If a shepherd speaks in a way that sheep can understand, the shepherd will have greater success in leading the sheep in a gentle yet firm way. They will find the pasture he wants them to graze in and they will drink the best water that can be found and they will be safe. If we would speak to one another as Jesus spoke to the people; if we would bring comfort, peace and hope to one another as Jesus did for the people of that day; perhaps more people would hear as I hear or as you hear. Jesus only had a short time to call the people to follow God. We have a lifetime and the presence of God in the Holy Spirit to guide and help us. We cannot do better than Jesus but we can strive to be like him. We may never find the ears of everyone open to hear God but we can keep trying by showing others that we are listening to God! Amen.
Bible Text: Revelatin 5:11-14 and John 21:1-19 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Nourishing Faith – John 21:1-19 It is only in the Gospel of Luke that we sense the depth of anguish felt by the disciple Peter when the cock crowed twice and Peter came to realize that he had denied his Lord three times – just as Jesus had predicted. It is significant that we remember this detail from Luke’s account because I believe that in this encounter of Peter and Jesus in John’s Gospel, Peter is still feeling that anguish and grief. In that moment before the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter came to realize how weak he truly was and how unprepared he was to really follow Jesus. And as the events of that last day played themselves out, Peter was no doubt racked by great swings of emotion as he would have chastised himself for his weakness and yet struggled to imagine how he would have responded differently. True enough, he had remained with the others after the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. He had even run to the tomb to check out the story of the women who had told them that Jesus was raised from the dead. But there still seemed to be a nagging doubt within him as to his suitability to even consider carrying on the mission of Jesus. Even the gift of the Holy Spirit does not seem to impress upon him that he is still worthy of being one of God’s ambassadors for the coming kingdom and the return of God in Christ. But when Jesus appears to the disciples while they are fishing, it is Peter who does not wait for the boat to reach land but jumps out and wades in to the shore. After they have all shared a meal, Jesus asks Peter a question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter cannot say whether his love for Jesus is any greater than the other disciples. His answer is simple: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” A second time Jesus asks the question but this time he drops the end of the question and just asks if Peter loves him. The answer is the same: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” When Jesus asks the question again, Peter declares not only that the Lord knows that he loves him but that he knows this because he knows everything. Through this trinity of questions, Jesus affirms the heart of Peter. Through this questioning as to whether Peter loves him, Jesus is encouraging Peter to acknowledge that despite everything that has happened, that his love for Jesus has never waned. But Jesus goes a step further. While the questions Jesus asks encourages Peter to realize that he has never stopped loving Jesus even though he denied ever knowing him, Jesus is affirming to Peter that he still has a place in Jesus’ plans. He wants Peter to feed the lambs, tend the sheep; feed the sheep. Peter is often spoken of as the one who is the Rock, the one upon whom Jesus founded the church; but while one branch of the church adopted Peter in the physical sense, there is far more to make of Peter as the Rock in a spiritual sense. Peter is the closest example that we have of a disciple of Jesus who revealed his full humanity. Peter is the one who deeply loves, who acts impetuously, who makes mistakes, who comes out with profound statements, who makes bold assertions. He encompasses all of our human emotions and many of our human reactions to the divine. He is anything but meek and mild and yet he can be that too. Here Peter is being asked by Jesus not to found an organization with its own rules and procedures. Jesus is asking him to be a shepherd to those who will put their faith in God and who will seek to follow the will of God for their lives. As John described Jesus as the Good Shepherd, so Jesus calls on Peter to be a shepherd like him. He asks Peter to take the role of Protector, Nurturer, Sustainer of the sheep and lambs. Peter is to be a teacher and a guide. He is to love the lambs and sheep as much as he loves Jesus. Certainly there will be a need for discipline but the discipline is to be exercised in love. It is clear from the Acts of the Apostles that Peter takes this responsibility seriously. We learn of his struggles when he is challenged to know how to accept people who were not born in the Jewish tradition of faith in God. He struggles to reconcile how God can reach out to people well beyond what he understood from history. The result is that he learns to grow in his understanding of God but also learns more of what it means to feed the lambs and tend the sheep. For so many people today, the church has become an institution that is full of rules and rituals. It is shaped by its traditions and trappings. But it has also become compartmentalized. Our emphasis on our buildings and our structures and our procedures has led us in many cases to take the heart of the faith and make it the window dressing. And that is precisely what Jesus was trying not to do when he spoke to Peter. He did not want Peter to focus on building an institution but building up people. He wanted Peter to focus his time and attention on giving to people what they needed to live their lives in such a way that we felt nourished and filled. This didn’t mean that Peter would always do or say what the people wanted to hear but it meant that he would be seeking to guide them in their lives so that their faith in God could be strengthened. He would encourage them to read the Word of God and learn the lessons Jesus taught that they might discover for themselves the true meaning of life. He would encourage them to seek for God in every moment of their lives. He would encourage them to be mindful of one another and conscious of their need to support one another. And when they were following a path that could potentially harm them, he was to intervene and guide them on the right path. I have said before that more than 90% of our lives are lived outside of the place where we gather as a community of faith. It was rare that we heard of Jesus in the temple or synagogue teaching the people. Life lessons were shared where people were and when they needed to hear them because nourishing faith is not a once a week thing. It is a daily thing, even an hourly thing. We will never be known for what we say or do inside these walls as a community of faith. We will be known for what we say and do outside of these walls. But if our faith is to be an active part of our daily living, we need to think of nourishing our faith every day. No one feeds a lamb one day a week; no one would think of seeing if the lamb is safe one day a week. Feeding and caring for sheep and lambs is a daily task. And so is our faith. Peter was called by Jesus not to found an organization but to nurture an organism. He was called by Jesus not to be a rule maker but a nurturer and a guide. In this time it is critical for us as communities of faith to recognize that the most important role we can have with each other is not that of gatekeeper but of shepherd. I encourage each one of you to nourish your faith in God and to be an encouragement to one another as you live your life seeking the will of God wherever you go. AMEN
Bible Text: Isaiah 50:4-9a and Philippians 2:5-11 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp May the mind of Christ my Saviour – Philippians 2:5-11 Perhaps it seems strange that we didn’t have the traditional reading for Palm Sunday. True, we need to be aware that not every one knows the story and so I will speak of it in my message to you but I wanted to explore a little bit of the mind of the person who comes to Jerusalem on this day. There is a wonderful feeling of celebration and hope surrounding the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowds who have gathered to celebrate the coming feast of Passover are delighted to see the Teacher from Galilee. His presence is welcomed by shouts of praise. He is recognized as a blessed person sent from God who has brought healing and hope to so many. But the adulation of the crowd is also cause for concern among others. There is fear that the response of the people to Jesus may cause a physical and political rebellion that could spell disaster for the people of Israel. The fact that Jesus enters on the back of a colt or a donkey is a sign that a conquering hero has come to Jerusalem – for that is how conquering heroes enter a capital city and the shouts of praise and the spreading of palm branches and cloaks are signs of the people’s thankfulness for the victory the hero has attained. But note that Jesus does not come on a majestic steed emblazoned with jewelled saddle or bridle or bit. He comes on a young colt which is a sign that while he is a conquering hero, his victory will not be of this world or simply of a physical deliverance but rather that he is a humble hero – one whose victory is more concerned with the soul, the mind and the heart. His victory will not be a temporal one that tomorrow could change but rather an eternal victory that nothing will ever be able to reverse. Of course the path to that victory will bring much grief and pain and suffering but for today it is a joyous celebration. Now, were the people who welcomed Jesus that day aware of the symbolism of his actions? No doubt they were not. Even though it was clear that Jesus knew of the colt and that its use could be secured, there does not appear to be any recognition among the disciples of the significance of Jesus’ choice or of the subsequent adulation that his entry received. What is clear to us in this day is that Jesus knew what the symbolism of his choices were and further he knew what the coming week’s events were to be. And so it is that we will explore the mind of the one who chose to enter Jerusalem in such a triumphant yet humble manner. In the passage from Isaiah we read what has come to be known as one of the servant songs. These are prophecies which are believed to speak of Jesus and the path that he would take to secure the salvation of humankind. It is clear from the passage that the one described here will be a teacher, a healer, a Sustainer of people. It is also clear that he will not allow himself to be distracted or deterred from following the path ordained for him. No amount of physical pain will cause him to abandon his mission. He will stand before those who seek to judge and condemn him and prove that there is no good reason on earth to declare him guilty. In fact Pilate himself will come to the conclusion that there was no law broken by which he could condemn him. And while it may have appeared that he was shamed by what would be done in his trial and crucifixion, he saw no shame. He saw only a need to sacrifice himself for the sake of humanity itself and knew that in his sacrifice there would be vindication and hope. In the passage from Philippians, Paul encourages the people in the church to ever keep before them what was in the mind of Jesus Christ. The greatest temptation we can have as believers is to believe in our own greatness. We can be tempted to see ourselves as better than others – perhaps more righteous, more truthful, more honourable, more worthy of praise or thanks. If the one who was indeed God in the flesh and who could have chosen to save himself chose to follow the path the Father had placed before him and remain obedient even to the point of surrendering this present life, can we or should we do anything else or less? That is the challenge that Paul places before the people. If the one who could have made the world go his way chose to follow the path of the one who sent him into this world, what is to be our choice; what is to be our path? The path we are encouraged to take as followers of God in Jesus Christ is the path that Christ revealed to us in his ministry and life. And that path was revealed to us through his teaching and example which revealed to us what was in his mind. And that mind that was in Christ Jesus is to be the mind that is to guide us as we wind our way through this veil of flesh. We are to seek to do nothing from a selfish motive or out of a sense of our own self-importance. We need to be aware of our own needs and interests but also be willing to balance those needs and interests with the needs and interests of others. In other words, we need to consciously live in such a way as to be supportive of one another and allow each of us to feel fully engaged in the life of this community of faith and wherever life takes us. We are to be mindful of the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual state of one another and seek as much as possible to bring wholeness into all our relationships with one another in community and beyond. Paul appeals to the people to strive for unity in thought and action. He makes this appeal by directing them to think of what it means to each of them to be in relationship to God through Jesus Christ; he appeals to them by directing them to think of what it means to them to have received the Spirit of God into their lives. If their relationship to God in Christ, if the Spirit of God in their lives means anything to them, then their desire will be to seek to live with one another in such a way as to show a deep love for one another. May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day Jesus’ love and power controlling all I do or say. Could we have faced what lay ahead of Jesus when he entered Jerusalem? No doubt we would have failed. But then we were never expected to take that path. The path we are asked to take is that of disciple and it is a path we are called to take with each other. We are called not to be Christ but to be like Christ. We are called not to have the mind of Christ but to let the mind of Christ influence our daily thoughts and actions so that we may ever remain mindful of the one whom we acknowledge as Lord and Saviour and so that we may ever remain mindful of our calling to be servants of God as we live with one another in our community of faith!
Bible Text: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18 and Philippians 3:17-4:1 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Healing the Breaches – Philippians 3:17-4:1 Last week was the first Sunday in Lent and a traditional time to reflect on the personal and yet communal struggle of our Lord as he dealt with the temptations of life as a creation of God. Each of the temptations plumbed the depths of our most basic desires as humans and each temptation was answered with a strength of mind and spirit that exceeded anything we could even imagine. The purpose of such testing was to ensure that the frailty of our humanity could be saved by the divine heart and spirit of God as found in Jesus Christ. In such a perfect union of God and human creation, God could draw us into a relationship that would not only enable us to better handle the temptations of this world but enable us to know the love and support of God for our lives both now and into eternity. As much as the plan of God was for us to share this world with him in perfect peace and harmony, his heart would not allow him to force us to accept that plan. And so as we read through the history of the people of God, we discover over and over how God seeks to share his vision for life and how each successive generation responds. Our Old Testament reading today speaks of one of the responses that Abraham – then known as Abram – made. He knew that he was old and that his wife had had no luck with having a child. And yet when God told him that he would have a son of his own and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, it is recorded that he believed the word of God and that it was counted to him as righteousness. As hard as it was for him to accept, he made a choice to believe. Of course he still had his doubts and his struggles; and though other responses of Abraham were not so wise and he didn’t always act in the most righteous of ways, he never lost faith in the God who had called him to leave his birthplace. The Apostle Paul was well aware of the doubts and struggles of those who had felt the call of God and had committed their lives to following the will and plan of God. He knew well enough how important it was for people to have not only a proper understanding of their relationship to God but also a proper attitude. He knew full well the challenges of living as a follower of Christ but he also knew full well the consequences of not living as a follower of Christ. Paul’s invitation to the people to imitate him is significant for he was asking the people to not just do as he said; but to do as he did. It is so easy to speak words of encouragement and then not actively encourage; to speak words of comfort but not actively comfort; to speak words of peace but not bring peace. The people needed to be reminded that they had come to faith in God through Jesus Christ not that they might build their kingdom but that they might build the kingdom of God; they were to remain keenly aware that they were to follow the path of God in Christ. And as a fellowship of believers each of them was to remember that the focus of their life was not their own glory or praise but the glory and praise of God. Conflicts in the church are nothing new. Differences of opinion and thought have ever been a part of faith for it is foolishness to believe that we will all see everything with one heart and one mind. There is a great temptation for people to try and mould any community of faith into a reflection of their own desires and hopes and not that of God. William Barclay in his Daily Study Guide on this passage reminds us that “our only safety against temptation [be it of body, mind or spirit] is to be in the Lord, always to remember him, always to walk with him, always to feel his presence around us and about us…..The Church and the individual Christian can only stand fast when they stand in Christ”. (Commentary on Philippians, p. 88) That wonderful catch phrase that gained such popularity WWJD – like any catch phrase – only holds ultimate and real meaning to those who not only ask the question but are prepared to hear and follow the answer. Certainly we are free to decide the path we desire to take through this life; we are free to love or to hate; we are free to be generous or selfish; we are free to enter into a relationship of mutual love and friendship with God and with each other or to see God as someone to call upon in time of need. But let us ever remember that to be called Christians will require of us not our own perfection but our desire to be led by the Spirit of the One who can ultimately bring us to perfection. As we approach the table of the Lord, let us remember that we come to remember the sacrifice he made for us and because we seek to deepen our relationship with God in every way. And let us ever be willing to share with all who come to this place not only the blessings of this sacrament but the blessing of living as a community of God’s people gathered to share our joys and sorrows, our hopes and our disappointments in communion with one another as we journey in faith.
Bible Text: Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp It is interesting to note that the record that appears in the Gospels of the transfiguration of Jesus is not the first time that such an event took place. Way back in the history of the people, a similar event occurred with Moses when the covenant between God and the people of Israel was being renewed. Previously Moses had gone to Mount Sinai where he received the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Moses was 40 days and nights receiving laws and guidance from God for the people. On his return he noticed that the people had grown weary of waiting for him and had made an idol of gold. In anger, he broke the tablets. Now he was back on the mountain to meet with God again to receive anew the tablets. Once again he spent 40 days and nights on the mountain with nothing to eat or drink. This time when he returns it is recorded that his face shone. The brightness of it was a sign to the people that Moses had been in the presence of God Himself. Moses was glowing with the glory of God. How long this glow stayed with Moses is not clear but certainly it lasted quite a long time as evidenced by the Scripture which records that Moses veiled his face when speaking to the people but removed it when he entered the tent to speak with God. It is clear from this passage that the idea of transfiguration is not new. But it is also clear that this is not a normal thing as well. In fact, the only two times that anyone is seen as transfigured is in the time of Moses and then Jesus. The first is the leader who freed the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt in a physical deliverance and the second is the leader who will free the people from their bondage in a spiritual deliverance. Both Moses and Jesus spend 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness in preparation for the task they will be expected to complete. For Moses it is to bring a renewed covenant to the people and to gain their acceptance of it and for Jesus it is to bring an everlasting covenant to the people and to gain their acceptance. Further to this the people as a whole spend 40 years being prepared to be the people who can inherit the land promised to them and live in the land according to the covenant they make with God. It is not without significance that the three figures who appear transfigured on the mountain are Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Moses and Elijah are leaders who overcame great obstacles and who renewed the covenantal relationship between the people and God - Moses in the great exodus and Elijah in confronting the false gods of the king’s wife. Both also have no known place where they are buried. Moses disappears into the hills and Elijah is swept up into the heavens. Jesus comes as the last in a line of great prophets and teachers. He will not only call the people to a renewal of the covenant in baptism but he will ensure that they will have an eternal place with God by the sacrifice of his life as atonement for the sin of the people. It is indeed a strange quirk of the church calendar that we are still in the midst of winter and just recovering from the events of Christmas and the Epiphany when we will be thrust headlong into a series of events that will culminate in the remembrance of the final days of Jesus upon this earth. One of the more difficult things for us to grasp as we live in this time and place is how to live the whole of the Christian message and yet at the same time relive in such a short period of time events that transpired over a period of more than 30 years with the majority of what we know of Jesus coming in just 3 years. We are set on a brief tumultuous ride between Christmas and Easter. We cover all the main events of his life and death and resurrection. We then settle until Pentecost when we celebrate the full gift of the Holy Spirit upon us and then we seem to go dormant until the whole thing begins again at Advent. The event recorded as the transfiguration is meant to be a pivotal point in the ministry and mission of Jesus. Up to this point Jesus has been speaking with the disciples about the fact that he has been sent from God to redeem the people and draw them back to a relationship with God but he has also told them that this will mean his suffering and death – death on a cross. The disciples would no doubt be deeply distressed at the thought of their teacher and friend – one who had great power to heal and to guide – being led to a cruel death. In the transfiguration the disciples not only see the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus, they also see with him two pivotal leaders of the faith. Their presence was significant because they represent turning points in the history of the people of the covenant and the message to the disciples would be that the one whom they were following was also one who would make a significant impact on the life and faith of the people. While they may not yet understand that Jesus is indeed God Himself in the flesh, they would certainly be able to understand that God was present. And then in the midst of Peter’s stumbling words, a cloud comes and overshadows them as in the days of Moses. And from the cloud comes the voice of God encouraging – even commanding – the disciples to listen to Jesus as he is the Son of God. The event of transfiguration is never repeated. The event is never marked by any visible outward sign but no doubt it left its mark on the hearts and minds of the disciples that day. The words that echo from this story are simple: God reveals to the disciples who Jesus really is. And while the disciples only have a glimpse of what is to come, they already have seen that there is a connection and a continuity between the old covenant established with God in the time of Moses, reaffirmed in the time of Elijah and the new covenant with God to be established in the time of Jesus. They have but one thing to do and that is to listen – listen to the voice of God in Jesus. Jesus knows the path that he must take and he knows the sacrifice that he must make. The disciples in that day could not change that path and we cannot change history. But just as they were encouraged, so we are encouraged today to listen – listen to Jesus!