Set straight by Jesus

August 25, 2019
In today’s gospel lesson from Luke we have a whole crowd of people…in the midst of Jesus’ presence…being set straight by Jesus. First Jesus set straight a nameless woman when…
“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…” (Luke 4:1) That’s how the gospel writer Luke begins the story…

Claimed and loved by God

January 13, 2019
In today’s gospel lesson, we have Luke’s very short account of Jesus’ baptism. 30 years have passed since his birth, and the time has come for Jesus to begin his…

Seeing the Light

December 30, 2018
Today we continue the Christmas story. We celebrated the birth of Jesus the Christ child on Tuesday, December 25th, just a few days ago. Though the Christmas music no longer…

People of Peace

December 9, 2018
Today, on this second Sunday of Advent, the focus is on peace and our call to be a people of peace – both peace in the world, and peace in…

Faith PLUS Action

September 9, 2018
Faith PLUS Action Faith PLUS Action. This theme comes through loud and clear in the second chapter of James. It also comes through in the gospel story…though the word faith…

Listen AND Respond

September 2, 2018
Listen and respond. In both of the New Testament readings today – the first chapter of the book of James and the seventh chapter of the gospel of Mark –…

The Advent of Peace

December 10, 2017
Bible Text: Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8 | Preacher: Speaker: Donna McIlveen Today, on this second Sunday of Advent, the focus is on peace. The advent of peace…or the coming of peace. The word advent is from the Latin word for ‘coming’…the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And today we reflect on the coming of Christ…the gift of peace…given for us gathered here in worship, and for everyone. In the second hymn we sang today – People in darkness – each verse is a prayer longing for the coming of the four gifts of advent…love, hope, peace and joy. The third verse is peace and the prayer goes like this: People in trouble would like to be free…come, come, come, Jesus Christ. People with arguments want to agree…come, Lord Jesus Christ. These days of adventure when all people wait are days for the advent of peace.The two words the author of the hymn chose to focus on for peace are ‘freedom’ and ‘agree’. What are some other words that go hand in hand with the word peace? Tranquility…calm…restfulness… quiet… serenity… harmony…order… ceasefire… silence. When we picture such words, we might imagine a peaceful scene like a walk along a beach…or the quiet of early morning. We might reflect upon the sense of relief that is experienced upon receiving good news. Perhaps it was the peace of reconciliation with someone you had been having arguments with, or were estranged from. Or perhaps you pictured peace and freedom. Like the words in the hymn…People in trouble want to be free. Free from an abusive situation. Free from worries. Free from pain. Or perhaps you thought of freedom from war and conflict…poverty and hunger. The images are plentiful…the need for peace great. The Nobel Peace Prize this year is being awarded today to ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”. More than 70 years since atomic bombs were used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as tensions flare over the North Korean crisis, the Nobel committee sought to highlight ICAN's efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. ICAN was a key player in the adoption of a historic nuclear weapons ban treaty, signed by 122 countries in July. However, the accord was largely symbolic as none of the nine known world nuclear powers signed up to it.” The quest for peace continues and in our complex world…a world with short tweets that are herd around the world…there are no simple answers. The challenges are many. Today is also Human Rights Day. We know there are people around the world living in danger, hungry, exiled from their home land, longing for peace. Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10th and commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year Human Rights Day kicks off a year-long campaign to mark its upcoming 70th anniversary of the document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being…regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. We have the Nobel Peace Prize, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Strong messages that strive for peace. We know that the path to peace is not easy. Peacemaking involves more than the laying down of arms…though that is a necessary step. Peace is a gift from God that we are called to live, share, demonstrate, enact…in our daily living…in our corner of the world. And for Christians who follow the Prince of Peace, the path to peace begins with repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Peace is what God announced at the first advent…is a gift that Jesus left with us…a promise that his light will guide our feet into the way of peace. Our gospel reading for this second Sunday of Advent – the Sunday of Peace – is the opening verses of the gospel of Mark. He quotes from the prophets including Isaiah: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the desert. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.” John – Jesus’ cousin – prepared the way for the coming of Jesus…for the advent of Jesus…the one who lights the path so we can walk in the way of peace. John the Baptist quotes from the prophets…words that would have been familiar to the people and that came at a time when the people would have been desperate for good news. It is thought that Mark wrote the first of the four gospel accounts, writing his gospel around AD 65-75. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins and the temple a pile of rubble. And into this setting arrives John. He is dressed like a prophet. His clothing is based on descriptions of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8 – a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist. And John’s task was to prepare the way. To tell the people to get ready for the Messiah. John’s whole life had been leading up to this time of baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John lived about 30 years and spent about 3 months preparing the people for the coming of the one who was more powerful than he. He called on the people to make straight their paths…to repent. John’s message was not an easy message… nor is it today. Repentance is a word we do not hear often today, but it is an ancient, good word. In Greek, it means “to change.” It indicates a change…a change of direction…a change from going one’s own way to going God’s way…to move in God’s direction…to be closer to God. It doesn't always mean a 180 degree turn, it may be a small re-direction onto the right path. At the same time, it may indeed call us to radically change the entire direction of our lives. What repentance does mean, is that we are willing to admit our mistakes and offer them over to God. It’s about living a life that honours Jesus Christ whose advent we wait for now and whose arrival we welcome at Christmas time. And in that honoring we are to live lives that are true to Jesus’ greatest commandment to love one another… to be concerned for one another…to have compassion for one another. When we live lives that honour Christ we are witnessing to others and sharing his gospel message – that advent message of hope…peace…joy…and love that we pray for this time of year. The Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson in his sermon Making Straight the Way, wrote these words: “As John set his life on a path of making straight the way for others, we are called to do the same. Jesus tells us time and time again, that the greatest of all commandments...of all laws, is the law of love – the law of concern for those around us. We, you and I, have an obligation to all those around us to take the skills and resources we have and make straight the path for others to reach the Kingdom, by pointing the way – as did John – to Jesus. That is why it is crucial that each of us give of ourselves beyond the simply Church attendance week after week. Not just by our actions, for that is merely humanism. Not just by our prayers and words, for that can dwindle into hypocrisy. We are called to – in all things – word and deed, prayer and action, by what we say and do, share the Christ story and thereby draw others into our journey to the end of the path.” Advent is a time for sharing the Christ story. And the Christ story goes beyond the babe in the manger which is sweet and lovely. The Christ story calls us to be peacemakers…to pray for peace in our families…in our community…and for peace in the world. We need to pray for peace during this Advent season as we prepare. As we prepare for God’s gift of peace, let us remember that however dark this world may seem some days…God has not abandoned us. God is with us and is always near. We can rejoice because Emmanuel, God with us, has come to us. God’s gift of peace comes as we know that we do not need to hide anything from God, but can bring everything, including our frustrations and disappointments with ourselves… all of our hostility and anger with the words and actions of other people… our confusion and concern for the world…we can bring it all to God in prayer. God’s gift of peace comes as we know that God has not given up on this world but is still at work seeking to encourage people to walk in his ways of peace. Today is December 10th. We are entering the second week of Advent. We know what is coming. So, prepare the way… make straight the paths… walk in the way of peace. Bring comfort to people. Share God’s word of peace. As you continue your preparations over the next couple of weeks… take time to reflect on advent…and who we are waiting for. The coming of Christ…the gift of peace…given for us all. Take time to prepare the way – ready your heart – for Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is coming. I would like to end with a prayer shared by the Rev. Herb Hilder of Prince George, BC. The prayer uses the opening verse of Isaiah 40: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. So clear your mind of distractions. Close your eyes. Rehear Isaiah’s words as God’s words for you. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who face death and dreadful decrease – your own, or the life-threatening illness of a loved one. You who suffer as a result of HIV, AIDS, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart attacks, strokes and tumors. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who are undergoing broken or strained relationships in your marriage. You who as children are living with such strain or brokenness. You who are at your wits end, confused or just plain exhausted and fed up dealing with family crises. You who are caregivers to aging parents, relatives or friends – hear these words from the Lord. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who live with underemployment, unemployment, redundancy, or too much work stress. You who live in or close to poverty, homelessness, or financial loss and bankruptcy. You, who have been persecuted, bullied, robbed and financially abused as a result of the greed of the powerful and influential. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who are children, teens and young people, intimidated or rejected by your peers, who have no friends, who feel abandoned by their family. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who are victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. You need and shall receive God’s comfort. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words from the living and loving God you who carry heavy burdens of self-blame, of guilt, of terrible self-image as a result of sin. Hear these towards as you are pressed down by stress hopelessness, sadness, loneliness, heartache and if you feel it is your entire fault. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Because the eternal God continues to come into our lives – especially in those times of despair and disorientation. God is here – today. Make no mistake about this! None of us are alone! Amen.

What Do You Think?

October 1, 2017
Bible Text: Epistle: Philippians 2:1-13 and Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32 | Preacher: Speaker: Donna McIlveen In today’s gospel lesson from Matthew we have question after question after question. And not your everyday type of question – what time is it? What’s for dinner? Why did the chicken cross the road? If something goes without saying, why do people still say it? If money doesn’t grow on trees, why do banks have branches? What was the best thing before sliced bread? No. The questions that chief priests and the elders asked Jesus were asked to challenge his authority. “By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?” The setting for the questions is inside the temple. It was the day after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem – the day we call Palm Sunday. The crowds had cheered. They had spread their cloaks and cut branches on the road. They had cried: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This crowd-pleasing event was then followed by Jesus entering the temple area… and overturning the tables of the money changers… clearing out the space for prayer… and then healing the blind and the lame. The following day Jesus moved even closer into the Temple Court… began teaching… and then found himself confronted by the chief priests and the elders… who a day earlier were indignant… and now were just beside themselves with disbelief that this man Jesus dared to teach in their space. They ask him a couple of questions – really demand to know: “By what authority are you doing these things?” “And who gave you this authority?” Two direct questions posed to Jesus in response to all that he had been doing… all of his teaching… all of his healing… all of his parables… his interpretation of the Law… his triumphant entry into Jerusalem… and his overturning of the tables of the moneychangers in the temple. All of which caused the blood pressure to rise in the chief priests and elders. Jesus was challenging their authority and they had seen and heard enough… and so they demand to know: “By what authority are you doing these things?” “And who gave you this authority?” Those in authority wanted to know about Jesus’ authority… who put Jesus in charge… and who gave him permission to do this. There seems to be only 2 scenarios. Either Jesus has just taken it upon himself to do all this stuff… or Jesus is operating out of some kind of mandate from God. If Jesus has taken it upon himself to do all this stuff, then, well, he could be subject to censure from the authorities, just like any other citizen. But if Jesus dares to tell them that he has authority from God to do all this stuff, he would basically be challenging their authority right to their face, and they could have legitimate grounds to accuse him of blasphemy. As they see it… no matter how he answers… he’ll be trapped… and the threat to their own authority will be stopped. What do you think? A good plan? Well… it had potential… but Jesus could see through their questions to what lay behind. He could see their motive which was to entrap him… discredit him before his followers… and expose him as a fraud. In good rabbinic fashion, Jesus responds to their question by posing a question of his own. He says: John’s baptism – where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men? Jesus knows the answer. Neither he nor John had any human authority. But the chief priests and elders weren’t about to answer the question that quickly. Upon hearing the question, they immediately realized they had a problem. So, they go into a huddle and try to figure a way out. If they say that John's authority came from heaven, then why didn't they honor John's authority? On the other hand, if they say that John's authority was assigned by people, then that would cause an uproar among the crowds of people who knew that John the Baptist was a prophet sent by God. And remember… the crowd was large. The city of Jerusalem was teeming with thousands of pilgrims in the city for Passover. And coupled with the large crowds of pilgrims… there was the extra security in place. Political drama. It sure goes back a long way. So, while in their huddle, the chief priests and elders tried to take all this into account… the reaction of the crowds of people… the reaction of their Roman overlords who allowed them to keep their positions of power and authority. What a dilemma. What a tight spot. If they respond one way, it won’t go well… and if they respond the other way, it won’t go well. What to do? Well, they weigh their options… and what do they do? They do nothing. Out of fear for their own standing and privilege, they do nothing. They shrug their shoulders… plead ignorance… and reply: “We don't know.”A cynic might say…has anything changed in the world of politics? Jesus hears their answer… and because their answer didn’t answer his question… he did what he said he would do… and he doesn’t tell them by what authority he is doing the things he is doing. But… Jesus doesn’t just walk away. He continues his teaching by telling them a story. And he begins the story by asking them… ‘What do you think?’ Jesus confronts them and wants them to think. To think about who they are… what they do… and why they do what they do. The parable of the two sons is straightforward. A father with two sons goes to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.” The boy immediately said, “No,” but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to his other son and said the same thing. This one answered, “Okay,” but he never did go and work in the vineyard. Then Jesus asks a simple question: “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” The chief priests and elders answered, “The first.” And Jesus replies: “I tell you the truth – the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” So… what do you think? What is Jesus telling us? To repent and believe? What happens on Monday through Saturday is just as important as what happens on Sunday. The words we speak in the temple must be consistent and connected to our actions outside the temple walls. Actions speak louder than words. Practice what you preach. Talk the talk… and walk the walk. What do we see… what do we hear… what do we say… how do we live? The challenge that Jesus laid at the feet of the chief priests and elders is the very same challenge that is laid at our feet today. To practice what we preach. To talk the talk… and walk the walk. To walk in the way of righteousness. It’s not a call to be perfect, but a call to be faithful and obedient... in both word and deed… united with Christ. It’s about not simply talking about him… but by living out our relationship with Christ in all parts of our lives. Here in worship… and when we leave worship. When we are out and about in our neighbourhoods. When we are at work… at school… at the store… in the restaurants. The Christ that we profess should be evident in our lives… every day. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Church in Philippi… in his letter to the people he loved… “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul wrote his letter to the Church in Philippi while in prison…confined behind locked doors. He missed being with the people and he longed to be among them as they shared the gospel with the community around them. But he is far from happy with some of them who do not have the right attitude. As he writes he knows they are not perfect – no congregation is – but he wants the people to live their life in the light of the story of Christ. In all that they do, to be like-minded in Christ. As a community to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord…and to have that unity…that connection…to be what motivates them to action. To say yes to Christ in both word and deed. In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis depicts the devil, Screwtape, offering advice to his apprentice and nephew, Wormwood. Wormwood is charged with making sure a particular man doesn't come under the “evil” influence of God, certainly not submitting to the “enemy,” Jesus Christ (Remember, the story is told from the perspective of the devil). Unfortunately for Wormwood, though, the man does succumb to the grace of God and professes his faith in Christ. After lamenting this setback, Screwtape declares that it's still not too late to salvage the situation. His solution: don't let the man convert his faith into action. Listen to what Screwtape tells Wormwood: “It remains to consider how we can retrieve this disaster. The great thing is to prevent his doing anything. As long as he does not convert [his faith] into action, it does not matter how much he thinks about this new repentance. Let the little brute wallow in it. Let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilizing the seeds which the Enemy plants in a human soul. Let him do anything but act. No amount of piety in his imagination and affections will harm us if we can keep it out of his will... The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.” It is a tough challenge to live in Christ. We are called to be like Christ – in what we do and how we do it. Christ engaged people in whatever circumstances he found them and spoke to their deepest needs. Christ saw their hurts and healed them. While Christ spent some time alone in prayer and worship, mostly he was with people – showing them love, faith, hope. He was present with them. He was available. And you know, sometimes being available is what is needed. Being present with someone in need…who is hurting…who is feeling alone. Let them know they are not alone. Being present is an encouragement we can all offer, no matter our technical training or skills. Have you heard about the man who applied for a job as a handyman?The prospective employer asked, “Can you do carpentry?” The man answered in the negative. “How about bricklaying?” Again, the man answered, “No.”The employer asked, “Well, what about electrical work?” The man said “No, I don't know anything about that either.” Finally, the employer said, “Well, tell me then what is handy about you.” The man replied, “I live just around the corner.” Sometimes the greatest ability we can have is availability. To be where God can call us, to be within whisper range of his summons…and to answer that summons. We may feel woefully inadequate to answer that summons. What will I say? I don’t have the answers. Why me? Why should I go? Well…what do you think? It’s a pretty big call, to be like Christ. There is assurance in the Philippians passage that we are not called to do this alone. We are reminded that it is “God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” If we do our part, if we are faithful and follow Christ, God will work through us. So, I leave you this day with a question. Is God working through us – to do more than we can imagine or ask for? What do you think? May God continue to surprise us with blessings beyond our imagination. Amen.