Bible Text: Acts 1:1-11 and 1 John 5:9-13 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Celtic Spirituality Listening for the Goodness While there has always been a recognized orthodoxy in the church with those ways of thinking that run contrary to it being discredited, it remains for us in our time to examine the controversies of the previous generations and decide for ourselves whether or not such thinking was indeed heretical and dangerous to a proper interpretation of the word of God or whether it was a politically motivated attempt to control the spiritual journey of the people. Many of us trace our roots to the British Isles with many of us laying claim to that heritage now recognized in song, art and poetry as Celtic. And while we may well recognize that the Celts were a spiritual people before the arrival of Christianity, there may be still questions in our minds as to the nature of that spirituality and whether or not it could find a legitimate expression within the Christian faith. While there were signs that the Christian faith had been introduced to the Celtic people as early as the third century, it was not until the fourth century that what has come to be viewed as a distinctive Celtic spirituality emerged. One of the first prominent Celtic theologians was a man named Pelagius. Many people believed that Pelagius was teaching that we are capable of saving ourselves and that we do not rely on the redeeming grace of God. Since most of the writings of Pelagius have not survived, it is difficult to give a fair assessment of his thought. He is most often viewed through the eyes of his two greatest critics, Augustine of Hippo and Jerome. Pelagius grew up in a different world from Augustine or Jerome and his spirituality grew out of his experience of God in what was a far more wild part of the world. The isolation of the British church – due to its position at the far edge of the Roman Empire – contributed to a number of things which did not sit well with Augustine who was more closely tied to Rome and the central seat of the faith. In everything from hair-style to diet and even physical appearance, there was much to criticize. Certainly it could be argued that it was inappropriate to adopt or carry on some of the pre-Christian practices but over the centuries we have discovered that such things can help to bridge the gap between the pre-Christian experience of God and the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. For many cultures their spirituality found a natural connection to the Christian message and so enabled people to embrace the faith and find a deeper meaning to their life. Many people actually found the teachings and thoughts of Pelagius to be deeply spiritual but his appearance caused others to find reasons to discredit him. The whole emphasis that is in the church today on spiritual direction and finding a spiritual director or guide is a feature of the Celtic church where people were encouraged to find what was called an anamchara or soul friend. But Pelagius did not expect this person to be the priest or religious leader. For him, the soul friend needed to be someone to whom you could open your inner self, ‘hiding nothing’, he says, ‘revealing everything’ in order to know and further explore what is in one’s own heart. Each of us would do well to find such a person. Another typical mark of the Celtic spirituality which Pelagius emphasized was a strong sense of the goodness of creation in which the life of God can be glimpsed. He believed that narrow shafts of divine light pierce the veil that separates heaven from earth. Every movement of the animals, the birds, insects, and fish – all revealed to him the presence and the spirit of God. This was not animism – a belief that the actual object was God but rather that as part of creation given life by God, the spirit of God dwelt there as it did throughout creation. He saw beauty and goodness in all creation. Not sure if mosquitoes and black flies were in his world and whether he would have been as positive about God’s presence in them. They are a challenge! Because Pelagius saw God as present within all that has life, he understood Jesus’ command to love our neighbour to mean not only our human neighbours but all life. He ran himself into trouble because he sought to widen the circle and challenge the people to not live their lives strictly in response to a set of beliefs or doctrines but to live a life of wisdom. They were encouraged to love all people, friends and enemies alike, and do good in return for evil. For him Jesus was the embodiment of all wisdom and humility and was the perfection of the wisdom by which we are to be guided in life. For Pelagius, doctrines may help to explain mysteries, Scripture records for us the teaching and example of Jesus and the early church, but it is how we respond with our heart and actions that truly matter. For him, to believe in Christ was no sign of true faith or spiritual growth; it was how that belief translated into a life seeking to follow the example of Christ. Many people came to believe that he was suggesting that we did not need to believe in Jesus or his atoning sacrifice but rather he was encouraging us to go beyond simple belief or doctrine to embrace the message of Christ in such a way as to grow in likeness to him. Never did he believe that we could become perfect but he believed that we needed to strive to that perfection. To restrain from doing wrong deeds is of little good if we are not prepared to also do good deeds. Pelagius also firmly held that every child is conceived and born in the image of God. He believed that the newborn contains the original, unsullied goodness of creation and humanity’s essential blessedness. For him in the birth of a child God was giving birth to his image on earth. While many believed that Pelagius denied the presence of evil and its power over the human person, rather Pelagius believed that the image and goodness of God was at the heart of humanity and that wrongdoing and evil obscured or covered it over. The light of God is at the heart of every person waiting to be liberated. Our redemption in Christ becomes for us a setting free, a releasing of what we essentially are. What Pelagius emphasized and sought for people to come to appreciate was the dignity of our human nature. He believed that our deepest desires are for God even though other desires obscure our true heart. He never claimed that we could not do that which is evil but he would allow us to believe that we could be forced to do it by a fault in our nature. He strongly believed in our freedom to choose the good and sought for people to have the confidence to know that this was God’s hope and desire. He never denied the centrality of God’s grace but rather saw it as the strength that enables us to choose the good and do it. Evil, he says, is like a fog that blinds is to our true selves. Pelagius looked for the good not only in the people within the Church but to those outside. When we meet good, kind and just people outside the church, where do these qualities come from? For Pelagius it is a sign that their essential nature is good and that nature is a gift of God. Rather than the world being opposed to the Church, Pelagius sees the Church as an integral part of the world given the key to unlock the essential nature of all creation. Our own acknowledgement of God in Christ is to be viewed as a liberation of our spirit to discover the essential goodness that our creation has granted us. The question for Pelagius is not how do we institutionalize this goodness but rather how do we help others to discover that essential goodness within them. For Pelagius, the gift of the gospel is that we are ‘instructed by the grace of Christ’, encouraged and shown the goodness of God that is within us. Philip Newell, the author whose work is the basis for this series writes the following: If we believe that at birth we lack the image of God and are essentially sinful, what are the implications for our spirituality? Does it mean that there is no vital connection between true spirituality and the sort of purity, simplicity, innocence and goodness of an infant? If we deny that God is at the very heart of life, are we essentially without God, without original goodness in our mothers’ wombs, so that our spirituality does not grow out of what God has planted within us? Is spirituality alien to our original nature, or does grace nurture our innate goodness? What about our relationship with the rest of humanity? If we regard others as lacking essential goodness because they are outside the Church’s sacramental ministry, does that mean that our spirituality has nothing to learn from other faiths and from the virtues that, as Pelagius reminds us, can be observed in our neighbours, many of whom are not members of the Christian church? (Listening for the Heartbeat of God, pp. 21-22) We do not know how Pelagius responded to his harsh treatment at the hands of the institutional church but we do know how he chose to live his life and express his faith. He wrote: ‘Wisdom consists in listening to the commandments of God, and obeying them. A person who has heard that God commands people to be generous, and then shares what he has with the poor, is truly wise. A person who has heard that God commands people to forgive…. and then reaches out in love to his persecutors, is truly wise’ (Carmina Gadelica III, p. 207)
Bible Text: Genesis 28:10-17 and 1 Peter 2:1-5, 9-10 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp The Meaning of Blessing Blessing is a common feature of Christian worship. We conclude our services of worship with a commissioning but also with a benediction or blessing. Blessing is an integral part of the marriage rite. Baptismal water and marriage rings are blessed before their liturgical use. Traditionally, church buildings are blessed in a very solemn rite known as consecration. Today I would like to explore the meaning of blessing: what is intended by a blessing. Some stories in the bible seem to suggest that the power to bless is a force held by certain people because of their place in the order of human relationships. In the story of Isaac and his sons, for instance, Isaac holds a blessing which he intends to give to Esau, his eldest son, before he dies. However, Isaac’s younger son, Jacob, masquerades as the elder brother and tricks his blind father into giving the blessing to the wrong son. The blessing passes almost like an impersonal force, and the deed once done cannot be reversed. Esau weeps and begs his father to bless him too, but Isaac is powerless and the gift remains with Jacob. Another strand of biblical thought suggests that blessing belongs primarily to God and is given only at God’s initiative. In one story, Balak, king of Moab, watches with horror as the people of Israel march triumphantly towards his land. He hires Balaam, a soothsayer, to curse the Israelites. But God tells Balaam that he has already blessed the Israelites, and warns him not to curse them. When Balaam is pressed by the king of Moab, God allows him to proceed with the ritual but commands him to repeat only what he is allowed to say. Three times Balaam tries to keep his contract with the king of Moab, but three times the words that come from his mouth are words of blessing. It is a lovely irony that the words of Balaam’s unwilling blessing, “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel,” are now part of the introduction to the daily synagogue liturgy. (See Num 22–24.) Some stories tend to imply that a blessing opens the gateway to wealth and success for the person who receives the blessing. In other stories, like the story of Abraham, blessing has implications for the long-range future. God’s blessing of Abraham is a covenant which will extend to future generations. As the story of Abraham’s descendants unfolds, it becomes apparent that a blessing may be withheld because of disobedience. The absence of a blessing then may take the form of judgement. The first appearance of a blessing in a congregational setting of worship is recorded in Numbers 6. Part of this particular form of blessing is still used by both the Jewish and Christian faiths. The Lord commanded Moses to tell Aaron and his sons to use the following words in blessing the people of Israel: May the Lord bless you and take care of you; May the Lord be kind and gracious to you; May the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace. And the Lord said, “If they pronounce my name as a blessing upon the people of Israel, I will bless them.” In Hebrew thought a name connotes identity. Blessing the people with God’s name identifies them as the people of God. They are, as it were, inscribed with God’s signature. The first creation story (Gen 1.1—2.3) contains a whole theology of blessing. Some non-biblical creation stories seem to suggest that nature is sacred in itself or may be infused with sacred qualities through the practice of ritual and festival. The creation story at the beginning of Genesis stands stoutly against that tradition. The world is not divine but is here because God made it, and it has vitality because God blessed it. The creation story unfolds in the sequence of the days of the first week, but twice the flow of events is interrupted for a blessing (Gen 1.22 and 28), and a third blessing is added at the end (Gen 2.3). There appear to be two moments in the Genesis view of creation: first God creates, then God blesses. God’s blessing confers the vitality and power which the world will need for its fullness. Blessing in the Hebrew Scriptures is about life, full and overflowing. God blesses the creatures of water and air. God blesses the man and the woman with fertility and with responsibility for the world. Finally, at the end of the process of creation, God blesses the day of rest. Blessing is not just a gesture of good will. Blessing is a state of well-being given for the fulfilment of creation. It is wholeness. It is everything we have come to understand by the Hebrew word shalom. We may untangle a sequence of thought in which blessing is presented in the scriptures of the Old Testament: God blesses all life for its extension and well-being; humans participate in this blessing through procreation and by accepting responsibility for the created order. People bless people: parents bless their children, ministers bless the congregation, couples bless one another when they marry as a sign of their common participation in God’s blessing. People bless God as a response to God’s blessing and as prayer for their participation in God’s blessing (see Psalms 103 and 134 as examples). While the Hebrew Scriptures abound with examples of people blessing each other and blessing God for his goodness, there are few occasions when a blessing is offered for a place. Perhaps a close example is Solomon’s dedication of the Temple, a rite that was clearly intended to inaugurate the use of the new liturgical space he had built. However, his prayer of dedication (1 Kings 8.22–61) is less concerned with the state of the Temple as a blessed place than with the use of the Temple in the piety of Israel. When his prayer is ended, Solomon blesses the people by blessing God (vv. 55f). As Judaism developed, an elaborate scheme of blessings was created, to be recited on most important occasions of life, including everyday occasions like eating, drinking, being in a storm, on seeing a rainbow, etc. A prayer of this kind is called a “berakah”, because of its opening word in Hebrew. Rabbis taught that “It is forbidden to a man to enjoy anything of this world without a benediction, and if anyone enjoys anything of this world without a benediction, he commits sacrilege.” Another rabbi said, “To enjoy anything of this world without a benediction is like making personal use of a thing consecrated to heaven, without acknowledging that ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.’” Jewish blessings often begin with the formula, “Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the universe.” They continue with a statement of the reason why the blessing is offered. A simple blessing before eating bread continues, “who brings forth bread from the earth.” Longer blessings include petitions. Such blessings are prayers related to the ongoing process of life and the fulfilment of God’s creation. Prayer of this kind passed into Christian practice. In the Benedictus, for instance, Zechariah blesses his son John by blessing God for the covenant of salvation (Lk 1.68–79). Paul refers to the Communion cup as “the cup of blessing that we bless” (1 Cor 10.16). However, at a very early date in their history, Christians began to translate the Hebrew word for “blessing” into the Greek word for “thanksgiving,” especially when it referred to the communion. The practice of blessing the food of the communion by giving thanks continued, but other blessings eventually appeared to be prayers in which we ask God to do something quite different. A split was created between blessing and thanksgiving. If we analyze our traditional Western forms of blessing we find that they tend to suggest that something has to be done to things like wedding rings and candlesticks and vestments and church buildings to make them fit for the holy purposes in which they are to be used. There is an implication that the object in question is not holy but has to be made holy. At this point a return to the Jewish roots of blessing may be helpful. Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman has written: “Contrary to popular opinion, ‘blessing food’ does not add to its sanctity, but the very reverse. Food in its natural state is holy, as it is a creation of God, who is holy . . . . We recognize it as a gift of God by acknowledging God’s holiness in a blessing. Perhaps it is time to recover this sense that everything which comes from the Creator’s hand is holy and is released for our use by grateful praise and thanksgiving. In doing so we may discover again a vision of the universe as sacramental (and consequently of the environment as a sacred trust). We need to remind ourselves that although not every blessing is a thanksgiving, every blessing is an act of thanksgiving and finds its fulfilment and completion in that central Christian act of worship. The same point applies to the blessing of people. We bless people not to increase their spiritual dignity but to give thanks for the role they have been called to play within the reign of God and thus to release them to play their part. Every communion prayer is such a blessing: we give thanks for the mighty acts of God and pray that those who gather at the table may be “one body and one holy people, a living sacrifice in Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Of course our traditional forms of blessing people may continue (e.g., “Almighty God … bless you”), but we should remember that they are prayers of thanksgiving for God’s goodness and grace already received, and for its completion in these people. And so we cannot separate blessing and thanksgiving. Every prayer of blessing is thanksgiving for creation and redemption, offered in petition for the fulfilment of the divine purpose in God’s people and in the entire world. Prayers of blessing are the return of refracted light to its source. As we go from this place with a blessing, let us ever remember that it is for us a sign of thanksgiving and our recognition that we are the people of God!
Preacher: Rev.Donna McIlveen St. Paul’s Church, Winchester Sunday, May 3, 2015 “Staying Connected” Today’s gospel lesson from John is all about staying connected – staying connected to the one who gives us life. Staying connected to Jesus the source of life. Jesus said (vs. 5): “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit… because apart from me you can do nothing.” These powerful words are part of Jesus’ parting words to his disciples on the night of the last supper. Chapters 14-16 of the Gospel of John contain those parting words…the conversation Jesus had with his disciples in the hours after washing their feet and sharing a meal with them…and in the time before Jesus’ arrest following Judas’s betrayal. In this lengthy conversation Jesus offers the disciples words of comfort and encouragement as he assures them that they will not be abandoned or left alone. “Do not let your heart be troubled.” “I will not leave you orphaned.” “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” “Abide in me, as I abide in you.” These words of comfort and encouragement are offered on the eve of his crucifixion. Jesus knows what is going to happen…but they do not. Jesus assures the disciples that his death will not be senseless and that even after he is no longer physically with them that they will not be alone…that they will survive…and even flourish. In the passage from the fifteenth chapter of John, Jesus refers to himself as the true vine. He prefaces the words with the phrase “I am”. I am the true vine. The gospel writer John records seven “I am” statements…words not recorded by the other gospel writers. The words “I am” recall the time when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, recorded for us in Exodus 3. At that time Moses said to God, “Who shall I say sent me? What is your name?” And God replied “I am who I am.” Jesus uses the same words, “I am” with each of the seven statements describing an aspect of his person and ministry: I am the bread of life…I am the light of the world…I am the gate…I am the good shepherd…I am the resurrection and the life…I am the way…and I am the true vine. The image of the vine was not unfamiliar to the people. The vine had become the symbol for the nation of Israel and it was used to decorate the temple and used on coins. It was also an image used by the prophets and in the Psalms to describe Israel. Isaiah wrote that “Israel is the vineyard,” (Isaiah 5.1-7). The Psalmist writes “We were like a grapevine,” (Psalm 80.8). It wasn’t always a positive image, however. The prophet Jeremiah describes Israel as a wild vine and Hosea uses the phrase empty vine. So when Jesus used the phrase “I am the true vine” and he spoke to them about abiding in him as he abides in them, he was telling them to stay connected and in doing so they would be strengthened and bear much fruit. As it was for the disciples…so it is for us today. When we are connected to Jesus we are strong – when we are cut off from him we are weak. When we are connected to Jesus the true vine, we are where we are supposed to be. We need to stay connected in order to grow and be fruitful. The purpose of the vine is to carry water and nutrients to the branches. Without water and nutrients the branches die. They need what the vine supplies to live and to grow and to make fruit. We need the spiritual nourishment that Jesus provides – both individually and as a church community – if we are to bear fruit. We need Jesus, the vine, to provide those things… and staying connected is the only way. At this spring time of the year when new growth is all around us, it is helpful to remind ourselves of who provides the growth. John tells us that Jesus is the vine…God the Father is the vinegrower – or the gardener – and we are the branches. Let’s think for a moment about the image of the garden. This is the time of year when many of us are anxious to begin planting vegetable seeds, bedding plants, and tending to the perennials that have once again come back from their winter sleep. We welcome the spring and the warmer weather and for the most part look forward to working out in the garden. But even a novice gardener knows that just because you want something to grow doesn’t guarantee that it will. You need to tend to it – to lovingly care for it. So we provide good soil so the plant can establish good strong roots, and then we water the plant so that it doesn’t dry up and wither and die. And when weeds poke their heads through the ground we pull them. If a bush becomes too big we prune it. To encourage new growth, we take out the dead wood from bushes and cut off the dead blooms from flowers. Gardening can be hard work. If we want results we know we have to spend time in the garden. We have to get out in the garden and work – we can’t just sit back and hope the garden grows, or wish it would flourish like it did years ago. It is difficult work. And sometimes despite all our very best efforts, the garden doesn’t produce the way we expected it to. How many of you have planted a garden and then have it eaten up by rabbits, or something as small as a slug. There is a simple story told by an avid gardener and the trouble he had with a cucumber plot he had planted. “He had been very careful to select the best seeds, and plant each one at its proper depth. He fertilized and watered the plants, he worked the soil faithfully each week to prevent weeds from encroaching and he sprayed to prevent bugs and blights from afflicting the young plants. The season was a good one – just the right amount of rain and sunshine, and on the vines appeared broad green leaves and in due course the blooms. It looked magnificent. One day he noticed that here and there certain leaves were dying, certain blooms fading. Most of the leaves remained a healthy glossy green, but scattered among them were those turning brown. Why, he wondered, would some die in the midst of all the living? So he investigated. Stepping carefully among the tangled mass of vines he traced the ones on which the leaves and blooms were dying, until he found that they were all connected to a single stem. There, just above the ground, cut-worms had severed the stalk. The entire vine above that point was dying because it was not longer attached to the roots and the stem that had produced it.” I expect we all have a similar tale to tell. Frustrating though it is – it certainly reminds us that we die if we are not attached to the vine. We must stay connected to the roots which nourish us. It is the vine that is essential to our good health. Remaining in…abiding in…staying connected to the vine is crucial. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, neither can we as Christians bear fruit if we are disconnected from Jesus. Staying connected is the only way. When we are connected to the vine, Jesus also reminds us of the need we all have to be pruned. We all accumulate so much baggage and miscellaneous things that can quickly take us away from the vine and make our connection tenuous. Vines need lots of pruning, that’s true. But the good thing about pruning a vine is that when it is pruned it doesn’t mean it will die – it will grow again. Every time I read this story of Jesus the true vine I am reminded of an incident with my oldest son, who was just a young boy at the time of the incident with a vine. He was helping me pull out wild vines that had grown up amongst the evergreen trees on our property. As he saw it, vines were nothing but weeds that should be pulled, whenever…wherever. Well, as it turns out my neighbour had planted a vine along his fence line. And one day when I was over talking with my neighbour…young son William in tow…when he spotted the vine and decided it needed to be pulled. Well thankfully vines…even tame vines…are not that easy to pull and his attempt at eradicating the vine was thwarted by a ‘no…stop’…along with the roots of the vine. That vine was connected and thankfully, remained so. As branches on the true vine, we too need to stay connected. We need to stay connected in order for growth to take place. But we need to remember that the growth can only occur if the connection is to the vine. One of the hallmarks of the Presbyterian Church is that it is a connectional church. The church is the body of Christ and we are connected to each other…as congregations…because we are a part of the same body. We are not held together by what we do…but by our connection in Christ. We are connectional because God, in grace and mercy, has called us together. A couple of years ago when the General Assembly considered whether to move to meeting every other year rather than every year as is the current practice, all the synods, presbyteries, and congregations were invited to give reasons for or against such a move. One of the most common reasons against moving to a biennial assembly was that the Presbyterian Church is a connectional church and we need to meet more frequently, not less frequently. It is good to meet…but why we meet must never be put aside. What is our connection? Is it the people that make up the church that is our connection…or is it the one in whose name we are a church? The church is the body of Christ and it is Christ that connects us. We gather in Christ’s name. We gather for worship, for fellowship, for study…and we do so because of Christ…and the grace freely offered to us. Retired Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote these words about Christianity and grace: “Christianity is not a religion of virtue; it is a religion of grace. And there's a difference. A religion of virtue says, 'If you are good, then God will love you.' A religion of grace says, 'God loves you.' God loves you despite your foibles and failures, not because you're so good but as a sinner in need of mercy. God loves you; live then as one who is beloved, who has been forgiven.” We are connected. And we stay connected by grace and our response is to live as one who is loved and forgiven. The words in the first letter of John are full of love. The word love, or loves or loved, appears no less than 48 times and in the passage from chapter 4 that we read today the word appears 24 times – almost half of the total number of times it is found in the whole of the letter. No one has seen God, John says, but as we love one another we allow the world to catch a glimpse of God’s true nature. God’s love is incomplete until we manifest that love in our lives. Love is a blessing and a responsibility. We must work together to share the love of God. Sometimes is hard to keep going when you look around and see only a few feet. But even when the feet are few, we need to stay connected. We need to stay connected in order to know God’s will. We need to stay connected and be willing to show the world who Jesus, the true vine is. By staying connected to Jesus the true vine, we can do his will and help others to come to know Jesus as well. Remain with Jesus always. Stay connected. It is the only way. Amen.
Bible Text: Genesis 12: 1-9 & Mark 16: 14-19 | Preacher: Speaker: Phyllis McMaster Reciprocare “Is this really a word” Yes it is it is Latin and means to move back and forth. Other meanings Help each other Interact Interdepend Isn’t this what mission is all about “Helping each other” Todays sermon was written by Rev Shirley Gale. Shirley grew up in Perth and following graduation from Presbyterian College she has served congregations in Montreal, Forest, Port Perry, Ashburn and Guelph. She is now retired but she hasn’t stopped working. She continues to work doing pulpit supply and with congregations on future planning and with those preparing to receive a new minister. In his book, “Disappointment with God”, Philip Yancey relates this story from his own life. One time when Yancey and his mother were looking through a box of old photos he came across a crumpled picture of himself at 18 months. He asked her why she had kept this one. His mother explained that Yancey’s father, at 24, had lain completely paralyzed by polio and was encased from the neck down in a huge, cylindrical breathing unit. Due to the severity of his illness his two young sons were banned from the hospital, so Yancey’s mother hung this photo from the breathing unit just above Yancey’s father’s head. The last four months of his life were spent looking at the faces he loved. Yancey said: “that crumpled photo, was one of the few links connecting me to my father. Someone I have no memory of, and who spent all day, every day loving me.” Yancey went on to say: “ . . .the emotions I felt when I saw that crumpled photo were the very same emotions I felt that night in my college dorm-room when I first believed in a God of love…and realized Someone is there who loves me. It was a startling feeling of hope, a feeling so new and overwhelming that it seemed fully worth risking my life on. That photo and what it represented, had a profound impact on Philip Yancy’s life and faith. I’m sure neither his mother or father would ever have thought that God would work so powerfully through such a simple thing as a photo, nor did they likely consider themselves to be missionaries to their own son. We serve a God who is always at work, a God whose love is unmeasurable, unconditional, and missional. Missional? Yes, our God is a missional God, whose mission is to draw all people to God’s self in love. God pursues this mission in more ways than we can possibly imagine. One of those ways is in and through people. The primary purpose of the Church, is for its people to go into the world, near and far, serving as God’s missionaries. Serving isn’t always easy, nor is it done in ways that we expect. Dorothy was from small town where she attended the Presbyterian church She was a life-time member of the WMS and regularly attended worship. She was very active in the congregation, until shortly after the birth of her daughter when she became bed-ridden with a crippling illness. Each day, for many years, her husband would carry Dorothy to a specially constructed seat in their front window where she would spend the day overlooking the town’s main street. Jean*, a young, six-year-old girl, who attended Sunday School at the same church, started visiting Dorothy twice a week. In the summer, she brought flowers from her mother’s garden. These visits continued until Dorothy’s death seven years later. During these visits, Dorothy would talk about her life, her faith, and all the wonderful things she observed from her second-floor window-seat. Even though she didn’t know all the people that passed by her window she prayed for them. In her gentle way, Dorothy taught and mentored Jean in her faith journey and planted the seeds of her understanding of mission. Dorothy made Jean feel that she was an acceptable, worthy person whom God loved. What a wonderful gift to give an extremely shy young girl who wanted nothing more than to be invisible so people wouldn’t see her! After each visit with Dorothy, instead of walking, as usual, close to the buildings, with her head down, hoping she was unnoticed, Jean walked to school down the middle of the sidewalk with her head up, and her face decorated with a big smile. Isn’t it amazing how God used a woman who could no longer walk to help a young girl to walk with new dignity and joy? Jean eventually answered God’s call to serve as an Ordained Minister, which she does still today. Dorothy was only one of many people over the years who helped shape Jean’s life and faith. Dorothy may not have realized it, but she was really a missionary - right on her door-step. Today, there is still a great need for such a missionary-minded, nurturing community for the Church to be what God calls it to be and Jesus commanded it to be. We are to be a caring place where people seek God’s guidance to discover effective and meaningful ways to participate in God’s mission. As God’s missionaries we are called to use, whatever gifts and means God entrusts to us. Sometimes things stand in our way to fulfilling God’s call to serve. Age, physical limitations, work or family obligations, not enough time, financial challenges, or our misgivings about abilities can give us a feeling of not being properly equipped to do God’s work. It is important to trust that God has given us the gifts and means, we only have to listen and act. We are reminded by the Apostle Paul that it is often at our own point of weakness that God does God’s greatest work. Paul pleaded with God to be relieved of his weakness – his “thorn in the flesh,” he called it). God responded to Paul saying: ”My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It is often in times of weakness God calls us to tasks we feel unable to accomplish. The Rev. Shirley Gale, the writer of today’s Mission Awareness Sunday service, was reminded of this call one Sunday just before worship. Knox Church in Guelph has a position called Pastoral Assistant. The position focuses on seniors within the congregation and the community, especially those who live in nursing homes and senior residences, or those unable to attend Sunday worship or other church functions. Shirley was approached one Sunday morning to fill the position. Shirley, now seventy-three, and retired from ministry because of Multiple Sclerosis, thought she was too old to start active ministry again. Shirley suggested that the position needed a younger, healthier person. Shirley sat down in the pew thinking the matter over. Well, for over two years now, Shirley has been serving as the Pastoral Assistant. For Shirley, these years have been rewarding and meaningful, even though at times physically challenging. She is reminded every day that God does use us despite our limitations. Through her work Shirley met Margaret, a person for more than ten years has resided in a full-care facility, bed-ridden because of severe Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. She can no longer move without assistance, nor can she feed herself. And yet, Margaret cheerfully greets each visitor with a warm, bright smile and a receptive ear. What is exceptional about Margaret is her deep faith and the way she shares it so sincerely and simply with everyone. She prays daily for the staff, her visitors, her family, her church family, and the church’s ministries. She believes her mission is prayer and encouragement for those who do and those who don’t know the Lord. She does it humbly and faithfully. Margaret is one of the persons who has caused Shirley to reflect anew on the nature of mission and how it is so often reciprocal—or as Shirley now calls it ReciproCare. Shirley puts it this way: ReciproCare is simply caring for others and acknowledging that others can and do care for us in return. And, for this reason it is an integral and inseparable part of mission. ReciproCare is giving something of ourselves and realizing that in the very act of giving our gift-of caring the receiver actually cares for us, blesses us in return. God is present and at work in the giving and receiving of care. The fact is, the things we do for good or ill, affect the lives of others whether we realize it or not. Jane Goodall, renowned for her work among the Tanzanian chimps, said it this way: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world round you. The truth is we do make a difference, and we have to decide what kind of difference we want to make.” Every day is a new day God has given us in which we can “have an impact on the world” around us. A day when we can touch the lives of others with the caring love of our God, and in the process be touched by them. Opportunities and need for mission are all around us - it can be as close as our own homes, on our doorsteps, or next door, and it is far beyond us in places where only our hearts and tangible expressions of care can reach. We are called to care. ReciproCare is a gift that blesses both the one who receives the caring act and the one who gives this gift because this reciprocal experience is a powerful reminder of God’s gift of constant, loving care of The Apostle Paul reminds us of the importance of the reciprocal nature of ministry in his letter to the Romans (1:11–12) “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong.” And then adds, “That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Remember that God’s love and grace equips you to be a missionary today, near and far. God’s mission is the loving redemption and renewal of all people and creation - it is this Mission we are called to live each day, or as one person has said: “To be living Gospels.” Jesus said it this way: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” We can do this assured that we do not journey alone for as Jesus also Said in Matthew: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In spring our attention turns to planting and renewing our gardens and farm fields. #1 PLANT THE SPIRITUAL SEEDS OF JESUS’S LOVE IN YOUR HEART. #2 PLANT NEWS OF JESUS IN YOUR HEART #3 AS IT SPROUTS AND GROWS - IT STRENGTHENS #4 JESUS WANTS TO SEND YOU TO PLANT THE SEEDS OF HIS LOVE IN OTHERS #5 JESUS WANTS TO SEND YOU TO SPREAD GOOD NEWS OF HIM TO OTHERS. A satisfying life is not measured by what you have but by what you give. You may only be someone in the world but to someone else you may be the world. I can’t change the direction of the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination. Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough and more. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us everyday. Let us Pray: Thank you Lord for loving and caring for us and may we reciprocare those to feeling to those around us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen. Phyllis MacMaster
Bible Text: Acts 3:12-19 1 John 3:1-7 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp We are truly the product of our experiences. For us today our experience of church and even how we express our faith in God is so much shaped by the history and ideas of those who have preceded us. As a Christian church and specifically Presbyterian denomination we view the world and our relation to it from a certain theological perspective. That perspective has been shaped and reshaped over the centuries by the reflections of major thinkers who have sought to guide us in our worship of and life with God so as to ensure that we were doing everything that was right and proper. Certainly we can say that they didn’t get it all right but we must consider carefully that they ever sought to lead us on a path to a proper and full understanding of who we are as a creation of God and how best to be the people they believed God had created us to be. As you can no doubt appreciate - even from reading the four gospels and the many letters which compose the accepted version of the Bible and chroncile the birth of the Christian church - there were many different ways of interpreting not only what we are to believe about God but how we are to express that belief not only in worship but in our daily living. In fact there are many points in the growth and spread of the Christian faith where conflicts arose over how to interpret the words of the writers of the Bible and even how to guide the faith of the people so as to develop a proper view of God and ensure that people took the right path. And so it was that there developed in a part of the world isolated from the influence of the Roman Empire and the religious thought in Rome, a way of seeing God and our faith in God that led the people to an understanding of their world and their relationship to God that was a challenge to the accepted position of church leaders such as Augustine and Jerome. What I am speaking about is the Celtic church. The Celtic church had developed a spirituality that stood in sharp contrast to the Roman church. Firmly rooted in the spirituality of the gospel of St. John, the Celtic church listened for the heartbeat of God. They believed that this heartbeat is at the heart of all life while the Roman church listened for God in the ordained teaching and life of the church. At a synod of the church catholic in 664, the decision was made that only one view would prevail. The decision was for the Roman church and so the spiritual heritage of the Celtic church was discouraged and gradually over time it faded into obscurity. Rather than believing that both ways of seeing God and our relationship to Him were good and acceptable, the decision was made to accept one and reject the other – the belief being that this would promote unity in the church. Of course we know that God does not meet us all in the same way and that each of us finds God or is found by Him in our own time. And so what was it that so alarmed the traditional church fathers who sought to protect the orthodoxy of the church from these radical Christians? There were two things that troubled the Roman church. The first was the Celtic emphasis on creation. For the Celts, God was not just the creator but inherently present in all of creation. For the Celtic church God could not and should not be separated from the creation. While many of us think of the created world like a piece of art that stands on its own once finished, the Celts believed that God has never stepped back from creation. In fact the belief is that God dwells within every part of the created order. The world in which we live cannot be distanced from us. And even though there will be a new heaven and earth, the beauty and vibrancy found in the world as it is cannot be seen apart from God. For the Celtic church, we are to seek God by looking towards the heart of life, not away from life. To believe that the heartbeat of God is found in all of creation causes us to pause and give serious consideration to how we interact with all of creation. It forces us to consider more carefully what it means to be a steward of creation. You could say that the Celtic church was more sensitive to the environment as all of life contains the sacred presence of God and needs to be respected and honoured. One other point of conflict between the Celtic and Roman church was whether or not the image of God was present in all people or only those who believed in God as expressed through the church. Perhaps you have heard of Pelagius. He is associated with a heresy that has led him to be condemned as one of the greatest deceivers of Christians of all time. Sadly, the difference in interpretation of the faith between Pelagius and Augustine became a political struggle that ended with the excommunication of Pelagius and the push to eradicate any of the theological views of the Celtic church. Pelagius maintained that the image of God can be seen in every newborn child and that, although obscured by sin, it exists at the heart of every person, waiting to be released through the grace of God. Pelagius was up against Augustine who not only was one of the great theologians of his time but who lived closer to the political centre of the faith. It was his interpretation that every one of us is born sinful and that the image of God can only be restored to us through the Church and its sacraments. Augustine developed a spirituality that accentuated a division between the Church, which was seen as holy, and the life of the world, perceived as godless. And while we may think that the Celtic spirituality grew out of a misguided path borne of an isolation it actually has its roots in the teaching of St. John and even to the Wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. It was a spirituality characterized by a listening within all things for the life of God. While this series of talks will not be presented consecutively due to a number of special events, there will be six over the next two to three months. All will be posted on the website for you to review or catch up on what you missed. As with any topic that concern our faith in and life with God, the spirituality of the Celtic church will resonate with some of you while others may opt for a different path. However, I believe it is important for us to understand and appreciate that while we all come to God in Christ, we may choose different ways to find our way there. My prayer is that you will find in this series something to help you plumb deeper into the mystery of life itself and your life with God. Reverend Bruce Kemp
Bible Text: Acts 4:32-35 and Luke 24:1-35 | Preacher: Rev. Feras Chamas Different people describe life differently, but no one will disagree that it’s anything but perfect. We all believe life can be better if we do this or that or if this thing or that thing can take place. In any given day, the idea of changing things occurs to us more than once. We would often say to ourselves: “if only this or that can happen, things can look much better.” Usually, when we need to fly somewhere, we chose an airline that we can trust & afford. However, when we need to go somewhere in our minds we usually start by using what they call “if clauses” or “conditional clauses”. “If clauses” can help us to start to imagine the change we want to see so we can work on it. In this sense, “if clauses” can help us see the things that can’t be seen to the naked eye. Or they can help us see the turns our life needs to be taking. “If clauses” are very powerful; they give us the energy to explore possibilities beyond our immediate context. Today is the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Easter is a very special time for church people. It’s the corner stone of our faith. We believe nothing happens without this belief. Jesus' resurrection from the dead is what makes us who we are: “Easter people”. But as we came here last week and exchanged Easter wishes with each other, and as we do this almost every year, we are aware the world around us does not share with us the faith in the resurrected Christ. I think it’s fair to say that many people in this world don’t see the resurrection happening because it’s not seen to the naked eye. The world does not share our faith in the empty tomb because it does not exist in its immediate context. I wonder if I can invite you today to see what can’t be see and explore beyond where we’d normally stop by using our “if clauses”. I wonder how we’d we chose to finish the sentence that starts by saying: “If Jesus was risen …” Allow me this morning to suggest three answers for the sentence that starts: If Jesus is risen - what will happen? Let us start: If Jesus is risen…you will not come for anointment, rather you will come for testimony. It was the custom in the Middle East to put spices to the dead bodies. Usually they would do that before burial, but in Jesus’ case they couldn’t because they had to bring him down from the cross and bury him quickly before the Sabbath started. In the Jewish law, if the Sabbath starts while you are impure because you have touched a dead body, you will be looking at a difficult week until the next Sabbath. So, early in the morning, dawn time, some ladies (mother of Jesus accompanied by family & friends) went to the tomb to anoint Jesus. But Jesus was risen; he was not there. When the ladies found out that the stone was rolled away, and did not find the body in the tomb and were told by the angels that Jesus was risen as he had foretold them, who would care about the spices and the ointment anymore! Spices were expensive and hard to get, but who would care for them anymore when Jesus was risen? The angels asked Mary and her company to go and tell his disciples about that. When these ladies left their houses early in the morning, while it was still dark, they had an assignment in their minds (they had something to do). They had to anoint the dead body, but when they left the tomb they had a totally different mission: they are to tell Jesus friends that he is not dead - he is risen! There is no way to compare the two things: the first is so painful and sad - a mother anointing her dead son. The second is bringing the good news to those people. What would you chose? Years ago, in winter time, I had to take the train to get to my school. Many details of those mornings made me remember Mary and the ladies who went with her for Jesus anointment. We had to be in the station early in the morning while it was still dark - and of course it was bitterly cold. Only one look at some people’s faces was enough to tell you how unhappy they were to be there at that hour going to their work. Mary and her friends were not super happy about their mission that morning. If Jesus is not risen in our life, we will not be happy with our life mission. We will be probably busy doing things that we will get tired from soon. Those who came to anoint a dead body left with a mission (with a transforming mission) they were to bring good news to the people (what can be better?). In what sense are we anointing dead bodies in our lives? Do we want to have a real mission? Listen to this: Jesus is risen indeed and this can change your life. According to some articles which I came through when I was looking to learn more about “if clauses”: The first thing you have to do if you win the lottery is to stay anonymous. But if Jesus is risen, go for a testimony (for a new mission; not an old one like anointing dead bodies). The second answer: if Jesus is risen, you will not look for the living among the dead? When the angels met the ladies in the empty tomb they asked them: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is the lord of life, death couldn’t hold him. Death is the power of nothing; Jesus is the lord of the creation (he is the Lord of every living thing). Death did not have the last word in Jesus story; life did because Jesus is the life. The angels asked the ladies a very big question: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Have we ever done that? Have we looked for the living among the dead? We don’t need to buy spices and leave our houses at dawn, while it is still dark, to be looking for the living among the dead. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian novelist who is considered one of the most significant authors of our times, was asked where he gets his stories from. He said: “I go to the poor streets of Mexico city; if you go to Avenue Foch (a street in Paris) you will get nothing” and then he said: “do not look for the living among the dead”. Avenue Foch is one of the most expensive and prestigious addresses in the world. Of course we are not judging the people who live in that Avenue or in any other one, but the point is that life is not found where we usually expect it. The world’s compass can be misleading. Too many people look for life where it is not found. I think each one of us has to ask his or her self: where am I looking for life? Are we looking for life among the dead? Do you remember the story of the Samaritan woman? She was looking for water (water is life), but Jesus told her she needed to ask him for the living water. We go out for water every day (for life in different forms). Jesus tells us you need to ask him for the living water. We don’t need to be looking for the life among the dead, Jesus is the life; he’d gladly give it to us. If Jesus is risen you will not look for life among the dead! If Jesus is risen in your life, you will not go to Emmaus. When the people who accompanied Jesus heard that he was dead, they started to go back to where they came from. People went back to their cities and villages. They thought…..it is over. They thought that the beautiful and promising story had ended in a bad way. Two of the disciples went back to their village called Emmaus. The risen Christ met, explained to them what happened and broke bread with them. Jesus made himself known in the road of Emmaus. Their eyes were opened and they came to understand that Jesus has risen indeed. Once they embraced that, they went again to Jerusalem. Most of the people have a faith story in their life, but this story comes to an end at some time. Some of the stories end in a bad way, others just give up on their faith. When our faith stories come to an end we go back to Emmaus. It is a sad and unfortunate trip. There is a heavy traffic on the road to Emmaus. Many people think that faith stories are over and they don’t make sense any more. The risen Lord is on that road all the time: meeting people, explaining to them and even breaking bread; making himself known to them in mysterious ways. Some people have their eyes opened, others not. Did I say that “most of the people have a faith story in their life”? Well, I should have said also “all of us have faith stories that had sore ends”. If our eyes were opened, we will change our way. If our eyes were opened, we will go to Jerusalem. Emmaus is the way out (is the way of giving up), the way to Jerusalem is the way in (the way of keeping on). We take the road to Emmaus when our faith candle is put out; we take the road to Jerusalem when our faith candle is kindled again. Usually, in the bible there are two famous roads: the narrow & the wide roads. Well I think we should be remembering these two roads too: Emmaus and Jerusalem. The resurrection is an excellent opportunity for us to have our eyes opened. If Christ is risen in our life we will not go on the road to Emmaus, we will go on the road to Jerusalem. Biblically and theologically, going to Jerusalem is going up. Jerusalem is seen as the roof of the world, the top point of the world and for a good reason. The Israeli air lines are called ALLIA, which means going up because they land in Jerusalem. Every road is a downhill road if you compare it with going up to Jerusalem. If Jesus is risen you will go from the valley to the top of the mountain. Yes, life is anything but perfect. Certain things have to happen for it to change. If Jesus is risen in our life, this change will take place. We will not come for anointment, rather we will come for testimony. We will not look for the living among the dead - we will not go to Emmaus. Feras Chamas April 12, 2015 Chesterville Winchester Morewood
Bible Text: Mark 16:1-8 For the love of Peter – Mark 16:1-8 Perhaps it is hard to imagine life without Easter because the experience of Easter has been with us our whole life or – at the very least – as long as we have had faith in God. But there was a time when Easter didn’t even exist. True enough, there was no celebration called Easter before the events that we have remembered this past week but even in the days of the early church there was no set date for the celebration of Easter as the early church saw every Sunday as a continuation of Easter. However, as time went by, the need to establish a fixed time to focus on the events of Easter grew and so the church universal decided on a celebration in the spring. This was influenced by the proximity of the original event to the Jewish feast of Passover. But in time there was a division within the church with the Eastern Church celebrating the event at the traditional time of Passover while the Western Church decided on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. And as with other major days in the Christian calendar, Easter as a fixed celebration did not take hold until the 4th century and even then it did not find its final place in the calendar until the 8th century. And so the church found in the cultures that surrounded it a word that drew upon the tradition of celebrating the rebirth of life in the world with the coming of spring. Like the dawn of a new day and the awakening of the world from slumber, the name chosen would be Easter. But let’s get back to that time before there even was an Easter. Imagine if you will that Jesus died on the cross and there was no resurrection. Certainly the teaching of Jesus would have had a profound impact on the faith community of the Jewish people and many of them may have continued to teach and preach His message. But there would have been a great hole in the hearts and lives of the people. They would have been left wondering about the miracles they had witnessed, the raising of Lazarus from the dead. The disciples themselves would have been left with even more questions about that Passover meal at which Jesus washed their feet and spoke of the blood of the Passover becoming His blood. For Peter, the absence of Easter would have left him with a sick feeling in his stomach and heart as he would be left with the image of His Lord and Master standing alone. Peter, whose brave words turned to words of denial not once, not twice but three times just as Jesus had predicted. Peter’s bravery in the garden turned to cowardice in the courtyard. Yet who could blame him? He had followed this carpenter’s son from Nazareth through thick and thin but now he was faced with the might of Rome and the intense displeasure of the recognized leaders of the faith. If only he could believe that the promise of Jesus would come true, he might have dared to stand with Him. But Peter – like the rest – had come to believe that all the bravado from Jesus was just that. He had come to believe that there would be no resurrection for he had heard from John and Mary that he had died. Joseph of Arimathea had taken the body from the cross and buried it in a tomb. A rock had covered the opening. There was no tomorrow! But when the women arrived at the tomb to anoint the body, they found that the tomb had been opened and that it was empty. A messenger from God gives them the news that Jesus is not dead but that He is alive. The women are to go and tell the disciples and Peter to expect a visit from Jesus. And so they go to tell them. But why single out Peter? There are perhaps many reasons for this. Peter is the boldest of the disciples. He is one of – if not the most senior of the disciples. He is the one who refused to be washed by Jesus then wanted the full deal. He was the one who asked the most questions and yet who trusted Jesus the most. He was also the only one to dare to say that he would follow Jesus to the end and then denied even knowing Him. More than even any of the others, Peter needed to hear the message that Jesus was alive. More than even any of the others, Peter needed to be reassured that his trust in Jesus was not ill-founded. More than any of the others, Peter needed to know that Jesus had forgiven him and that he had not lost the trust of His Lord and Master. Without the resurrection, the crucifixion and the words of Jesus at that last Passover would have been hollow empty events devoid of any real purpose or meaning. But with the resurrection, those events made perfect sense. Peter and the others could now begin to understand so much more of what Jesus had told them in parable and in action. God had broken into the world in a way never before imagined. He had lived the life of His people and He had allowed Himself to suffer on their behalf. Perhaps His death would only have been remembered by those who believed but His resurrection would remind believers and non-believers alike that this was no ordinary man. In the resurrection God is telling all who would hear it that He desires nothing more than to open the door that stands between us and to invite us to come in and be at peace. He did this not for His sake but for ours. He did it for the love of Peter and for the love of us! AMEN.
Bible Text: Mark 11: 1-11 The Meaning of the Palm – Mark 11:1-11 The palm tree is something that we associate with countries both in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. When we think of them we imagine them as large and majestic swaying in the gentle tropical breezes. Perhaps we wish we were there instead of here. For Christians this is the Sunday on which we begin again that journey with our Lord from great expectation through a time of sombre reflection to a time of great sorrow and angst from which we emerge with fresh hope on Easter morning. Today we are at that place in the story where the people are gathering to celebrate the Passover. This is the single most important religious event in the life of the people. While there have been many times when the people have experienced deliverance from persecution, the flight from Egypt was a turning point for the people. Every restoration that they experienced after this one was a return to the land promised to them by God but the exodus from Egypt with Moses was its beginning. Before this they were a nomadic family whose journey had taken them across many lands and placed them in the midst of foreigners. But with the exodus from Egypt the people were not only released from their bondage to the Egyptians, they also became a people whom the angel of death had passed over. And so the Passover marked for the people a turning point in their life as a nation. Clearly that experience of deliverance from the hand of death set them on a path with God – one which required of them a response. Their deliverance was marked by a new covenant relationship between the people and God. God would be their God and they would be His people. The Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses as guideposts for the people in this new relationship. And so the people had begun to come to Jerusalem to celebrate this wonderful event. Perhaps we find it strange that the people felt such a strong pull to come to Jerusalem. We live in a vast land filled with many places where we can go to celebrate the key events of the faith. We also probably do not think of a certain place in the world where we would want to go to celebrate these events. But then we do not celebrate the Christian Passover once a year. We celebrate it 4 times a year and other communities celebrate it more often. But for the Jewish people it is the Sabbath that they observe every week. And so for them the Passover is very special. And with Jerusalem being the spiritual capital of the faith and the place where the temple was built, that is the place to celebrate this most momentous occasion. And so for Jesus who knew that His ministry would lead Him to be condemned to death, it made the most sense that He would go with His disciples to the very spiritual centre of the nation and there not only celebrate the Passover with them but change the meaning of Passover forever. And so we are here in this the year of our Lord 2015 to celebrate His coming to Jerusalem. Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, come to the spiritual centre of that time to reveal to the people that God was not just to be remembered for what He had done in one time and place but for what He was doing now that would have an effect on the life of the world and its people from this time forward. It wasn’t until the 4th century that the ceremony of the blessing of and procession with palms began. The first place where it originated was Jerusalem. Gradually it was introduced into the ancient land of Gaul and then in Rome. In the Middle Ages the rite became quite elaborate and a procession was held from church to church through the towns. But it was not until 1955 when Pope Pius XII restored the practice of Holy Week that the procession of the palms became part of the annual celebrations of the church. As for the palm itself, it has always been a choice tree in the area of the Middle East for centuries and among all peoples of the region. It is a princely tree. Anything that stands that tall and commands attention would naturally be viewed in that way. The fact that it grows in areas bordering desert lands and that it provides shelter and shade from the heat of the sun as well as providing fruit when it is a date palm. A branch of the palm tree was used as a symbol of victory and well-being by both the Romans and the Jews. Palm branches were also used on festive occasions as part of the bouquet given as a sign of homage to a hero or to celebrate victory. Later in the New Testament they are connected with martyrdom (Rev 7:9) and even later still they were used to decorate tombs in the catacombs as a memorial of the triumphal death of the martyrs. Even in the Psalms (92:12-13), the palm was already the symbol of the just man who flourishes like the palm tree: strong, supple and graceful. Finally on early sarcophagi and mosaics, Christ and the Apostles are pictured amid palms or carrying palms, which have become a symbol of paradise. So the choice of the Palm branch as a sign to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem was not just a matter of convenience. It was not used because it was a common plant. It was used with great intention. For the people who met Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, Jesus was a hero. He was a person who had taught them about God in a way they had never before heard. They had been taught to understand their relationship to God in a new way, a deeper way. They had learned that their God was not so much a God of rules but a God of mercy. They learned that He was not so much a God of judgment and condemnation as a God of forgiveness and reconciliation. The people had found in Jesus one who understood their pain and healed their diseases. They found in Him a person who could show their God to be a God of love not hate, a God of compassion not vindictiveness, a God who realized that they would always struggle to do everything commanded of them. In Jesus they saw the human face of their God. And they were drawn to that humanity. It was always God’s desire to walk in the garden with the people, to ever be in a place where there would be no gulf between them. Jesus was creating that bridge between God and the people. And while they still did not fully understand all that God was willing to do for them in Jesus, they understood enough to know that it was a wonderful thing to see Jesus in Jerusalem and especially at the time of the Passover. Jesus would change what Passover meant but on this day He was for the people a hero because He had made God real to them in a say that had been lost for so many years. The words from Isaiah 50 are part of what we consider to be the servant songs and prophecies concerning the life of Jesus. Our passage today reads like a picture not only of the life of Jesus but of His trial, suffering and death. It’s probably a good thing that we do not know what the future holds but one thing we do know – Jesus, our hero, our friend, our Saviour, has walked the road before us. Today we welcome Him as a hero! Today we celebrate His journey knowing that His steps brought Him closer to that moment when He would reveal the final gift of God to His people – eternal salvation from death through the perfect sacrifice of the guiltless lamb, God Himself! Amen.
Bible Text: St John i. 41. St John i. 35 - 48 News is for sharing. In 1965 I came over from Scotland to Canada to work in summer mission. I was appointed to Lake Ainslie pastoral charge. I was amazed that everyone around the lake had telephones. In my home village I doubt if more that 3 or 4 people on our street of 40 houses had telephones. I was further amazed that while in Scotland we each had a private line, the people around the lake shared in two or three lines and that each conversation was quite public. Most people had a chair near the phone and they listened in to the conversation. It seemed that news and information - no matter how intimated or sensitive was for sharing .. Our New Testament lesson this morning is all about sharing the new - the good news of the Gospel. St. John i:35 - 48 ......... This was big news - Andrew had found the Messiah..... Philip had found the Messiah ...... No doubts - Andrew knew. So did Philip.... What did they do? Keep it to themselves and rejoice in their good fortune at having found the Messiah? And when they asked the Messiah where he was staying, He said to them “come and see.” They went with Him and saw where He was staying. Now what did they do? Well, we know what Andrew did - he went and found his brother and said the same words to Simon as Jesus had said to him: “ we have found the Messiah, come and see .” The story is repeated the following day when Jesus met Philip and said “follow me.” Philip found Nathaniel - a rabbinical student - we know this because they would use the shade of the fig tree to sit and study and mediate and pray. Nathaniel was skeptical when Philip said “ we have found the Messiah and replied sarcastically “can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip Andrew, Simon and Philip all came from Bethsaida. Like Andrew, Philip went to his friend Nathaniel and said “we have found the Messiah, come and see.” If we want a micro course in evangelism without all the bells and whistles, here it is: three words “come and see.” Andrew said it to Peter and Peter came to see. Philip said it to Nathaniel and Nathaniel came to see. Basically, these are the two things which have characterized the growth of the Christian church down through the years the invitation to come and to see. The first is a confession of faith ........................ Jesus said 'if ye confess me before men I will confess you before my father which is in heaven.’ (St Mat. x. 32)................ Andrew confessed his faith to his brother Peter. Philip told Nathaniel .... It is laid upon us today to tell others where we stand. To acknowledge that we have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Was Andrew a Christian at this point? Or Philip? Nobody was called a Christian at that time - but that is what they were and became: followers of Jesus. That is what we are by our response to our calling. The question is have we you told others about your faith recently? What did they say? How did they do it? They said “we have found the Messiah, come and see.” St John i. 41. He first finds his own brother. St John i. 35 -48 It is not a disease...nothing to be ashamed of... But it should be contagious. It is a distinction - to be called by the Name of Jesus. Today we must praise the Name of the Lord for all who have professed Christ and who are still professing him. Some of them hold exalted positions. Some of them are in the public eye. Most of them are like you and me - very ordinary. But we can still use the evangelistic technique. We can used the words of Jesus, of Andrew and of Philip: come and see. Perhaps they will come. Perhaps they will not. But you tried. Secondly Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus, . Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus. It is never enough just to tell others. If the news is so great, if our love is so genuine then we will want to bring others - if they will come - that they too might share the blessing. Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus. Three times we are told that he brought people to Jesus. First, Andrew brought his own brother to Jesus. He did not know the impact Peter would have in spreading the Gospel - his preaching on the days of Pentecost, his missionary travels, his writing. What if he had not shared the good news? In John 6, Andrew brings to Jesus the boy with the five loaves and two fish. What on earth would Jesus do with 5 loaves and two fish when faced with multitude of hungry people? We are no required to be successful - only faithful .... And in chapter 12, we find Andrew bringing to Jesus the enquiring Greeks who wanted to meet Him and visit with Him. Who know what seed they planted in Corinth and Philippi and Colosse and Thessalonica Andrew’s greatest joy was sharing the good news of Christ and bringing others into the presence of Christ. Having found Jesus, he could not sit still, he could not help it. He had to share Christ with others. Here is the greatest thing in the world.... Here is the most important event in history..... Here is the most important person to have walked on earth Here is the one who can do for you what no one else can do. Is it not right to tell others? Is it not right to bring others? Throughout Jesus ministry people brought others to Him - relatives, friends -4 men with their friend on a stretcher, breaking down the roof. The centurion coming to intercede for his servant... The father with the epileptic child... It is never enough just to tell others. We must go all the way and bring them and show them - here is Jesus. Taste and see that the Lord is good.... The other and often forgotten point is that we do not know the effect of bringing others to Jesus. The initial effect is either to accept or to reject him. St John i. 41. He first finds his own brother. St John i. 35 -48 But what happens afterwards? The man who rejects Jesus will have one of two things happen to him. a) His heart will get progressively harder.... There will be bitterness and antagonism.... or He will feel the prompting of the spirit and have no peace until he has his peace in Jesus. The wonderful thing is that God in Jesus calls all sorts of people into His kingdom. It is not just the beautiful, the wealthy, the intelligent, the socialites. Most are like Andrew and Peter and Philips and Nathaniel. It is our task to see that they are welcomed and encouraged. You do not know what God cane to when they have come to see and find a loving caring fellowship of men and women welcoming them. It is regretable that many congregations are not welcoming and visitors are regarded with suspicion. The early church was characterized by love..... Perhaps today it should be said of the church not 'see how they love one another'. But 'see how they love themselves.' There is a whole world in need of hearing the Gospel... Gary Inrig in “Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay” tells the following story: In May 1855, an eighteen-year-old boy went to the deacons of the church in Boston. He had been raised in a Unitarian church, in almost total ignorance of the gospel. He had moved Boston to make his fortune and began to attend church. Then, in April of 1855, his Sunday school teacher went to the store where he was working and shared the Gospel and urged the young man to trust in the Lord Jesus. He did, and now he was applying to join the church. One fact quickly became obvious. This young man was almost totally ignorant of biblical truth. The deacons decided to put him on a year-long instruction program to teach him basic Christian truths. Perhaps they wanted to work on some of his other rough spots as well. Not only was he ignorant of the Scriptures but he was only barely literate. The year-long probation did not help very much. At his second interview, since it was obvious that he was a sincere and committed (if ignorant) Christian, they accepted him as a church member. Years later his Sunday school teacher said of him: "I can truly say that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my Sunday school class.... He seemed more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of gospel truth, still less to fill any space of public or extended usefulness." Many people agreed and were convinced that God would never use him. In doing so they wrote off Dwight L. Moody. But God did not. By God's infinite grace and persevering love, Moody was transformed into one of the most effective servants of God in church history, a man whose impact is still with us today. The mission of the church today is to tell others to bring others. You can make it as complicated as you like. But it is really quite simple. Andrew’s message conveyed the conviction “I have found the Messiah.” His message was simple: “Come and see.” Here is the strategy for evangelizing our community, our world. COME AND SEE. And when they come to see, make sure that you welcome them in the Name of Jesus. . He first finds his own brother. St John i. 35 - 48 News is for sharing. In 1965 I came over from Scotland to Canada to work in summer mission. I was appointed to Lake Ainslie pastoral charge. I was amazed that everyone around the lake had telephones. In my home village I doubt if more that 3 or 4 people on our street of 40 houses had telephones. I was further amazed that while in Scotland we each had a private line, the people around the lake shared in two or three lines and that each conversation was quite public. Most people had a chair near the phone and they listened in to the conversation. It seemed that news and information - no matter how intimated or sensitive was for sharing .. Our New Testament lesson this morning is all about sharing the new - the good news of the Gospel. St. John i:35 - 48 ......... This was big news - Andrew had found the Messiah..... Philip had found the Messiah ...... No doubts - Andrew knew. So did Philip.... What did they do? Keep it to themselves and rejoice in their good fortune at having found the Messiah? And when they asked the Messiah where he was staying, He said to them “come and see.” They went with Him and saw where He was staying. Now what did they do? Well, we know what Andrew did - he went and found his brother and said the same words to Simon as Jesus had said to him: “ we have found the Messiah, come and see .” The story is repeated the following day when Jesus met Philip and said “follow me.” Philip found Nathaniel - a rabbinical student - we know this because they would use the shade of the fig tree to sit and study and mediate and pray. Nathaniel was skeptical when Philip said “ we have found the Messiah and replied sarcastically “can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip Andrew, Simon and Philip all came from Bethsaida. Like Andrew, Philip went to his friend Nathaniel and said “we have found the Messiah, come and see.” If we want a micro course in evangelism without all the bells and whistles, here it is: three words “come and see.” Andrew said it to Peter and Peter came to see. Philip said it to Nathaniel and Nathaniel came to see. Basically, these are the two things which have characterized the growth of the Christian church down through the years the invitation to come and to see. The first is a confession of faith ........................ Jesus said 'if ye confess me before men I will confess you before my father which is in heaven.’ (St Mat. x. 32)................ Andrew confessed his faith to his brother Peter. Philip told Nathaniel .... It is laid upon us today to tell others where we stand. To acknowledge that we have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Was Andrew a Christian at this point? Or Philip? Nobody was called a Christian at that time - but that is what they were and became: followers of Jesus. That is what we are by our response to our calling. The question is have we you told others about your faith recently? What did they say? How did they do it? They said “we have found the Messiah, come and see.” St John i. 41. He first finds his own brother. St John i. 35 -48 It is not a disease...nothing to be ashamed of... But it should be contagious. It is a distinction - to be called by the Name of Jesus. Today we must praise the Name of the Lord for all who have professed Christ and who are still professing him. Some of them hold exalted positions. Some of them are in the public eye. Most of them are like you and me - very ordinary. But we can still use the evangelistic technique. We can used the words of Jesus, of Andrew and of Philip: come and see. Perhaps they will come. Perhaps they will not. But you tried. Secondly Philip brought Nathaniel to Jesus, . Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus. It is never enough just to tell others. If the news is so great, if our love is so genuine then we will want to bring others - if they will come - that they too might share the blessing. Andrew was always bringing people to Jesus. Three times we are told that he brought people to Jesus. First, Andrew brought his own brother to Jesus. He did not know the impact Peter would have in spreading the Gospel - his preaching on the days of Pentecost, his missionary travels, his writing. What if he had not shared the good news? In John 6, Andrew brings to Jesus the boy with the five loaves and two fish. What on earth would Jesus do with 5 loaves and two fish when faced with multitude of hungry people? We are no required to be successful - only faithful .... And in chapter 12, we find Andrew bringing to Jesus the enquiring Greeks who wanted to meet Him and visit with Him. Who know what seed they planted in Corinth and Philippi and Colosse and Thessalonica Andrew’s greatest joy was sharing the good news of Christ and bringing others into the presence of Christ. Having found Jesus, he could not sit still, he could not help it. He had to share Christ with others. Here is the greatest thing in the world.... Here is the most important event in history..... Here is the most important person to have walked on earth Here is the one who can do for you what no one else can do. Is it not right to tell others? Is it not right to bring others? Throughout Jesus ministry people brought others to Him - relatives, friends -4 men with their friend on a stretcher, breaking down the roof. The centurion coming to intercede for his servant... The father with the epileptic child... It is never enough just to tell others. We must go all the way and bring them and show them - here is Jesus. Taste and see that the Lord is good.... The other and often forgotten point is that we do not know the effect of bringing others to Jesus. The initial effect is either to accept or to reject him. St John i. 41. He first finds his own brother. St John i. 35 -48 But what happens afterwards? The man who rejects Jesus will have one of two things happen to him. a) His heart will get progressively harder.... There will be bitterness and antagonism.... or He will feel the prompting of the spirit and have no peace until he has his peace in Jesus. The wonderful thing is that God in Jesus calls all sorts of people into His kingdom. It is not just the beautiful, the wealthy, the intelligent, the socialites. Most are like Andrew and Peter and Philips and Nathaniel. It is our task to see that they are welcomed and encouraged. You do not know what God cane to when they have come to see and find a loving caring fellowship of men and women welcoming them. It is regretable that many congregations are not welcoming and visitors are regarded with suspicion. The early church was characterized by love..... Perhaps today it should be said of the church not 'see how they love one another'. But 'see how they love themselves.' There is a whole world in need of hearing the Gospel... Gary Inrig in “Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay” tells the following story: In May 1855, an eighteen-year-old boy went to the deacons of the church in Boston. He had been raised in a Unitarian church, in almost total ignorance of the gospel. He had moved Boston to make his fortune and began to attend church. Then, in April of 1855, his Sunday school teacher went to the store where he was working and shared the Gospel and urged the young man to trust in the Lord Jesus. He did, and now he was applying to join the church. One fact quickly became obvious. This young man was almost totally ignorant of biblical truth. The deacons decided to put him on a year-long instruction program to teach him basic Christian truths. Perhaps they wanted to work on some of his other rough spots as well. Not only was he ignorant of the Scriptures but he was only barely literate. The year-long probation did not help very much. At his second interview, since it was obvious that he was a sincere and committed (if ignorant) Christian, they accepted him as a church member. Years later his Sunday school teacher said of him: "I can truly say that I have seen few persons whose minds were spiritually darker than was his when he came into my Sunday school class.... He seemed more unlikely ever to become a Christian of clear and decided views of gospel truth, still less to fill any space of public or extended usefulness." Many people agreed and were convinced that God would never use him. In doing so they wrote off Dwight L. Moody. But God did not. By God's infinite grace and persevering love, Moody was transformed into one of the most effective servants of God in church history, a man whose impact is still with us today. The mission of the church today is to tell others to bring others. You can make it as complicated as you like. But it is really quite simple. Andrew’s message conveyed the conviction “I have found the Messiah.” His message was simple: “Come and see.” Here is the strategy for evangelizing our community, our world. COME AND SEE. And when they come to see, make sure that you welcome them in the Name of Jesus.
Paul Maier muses that perhaps Herod’s reaction to the Magi visit would have been different if they had asked their question in a different way. But in spite of this, it is known that Herod mistrusted everyone and that he was in constant fear that someone would try to seize his throne. But being shrewd, he questioned the Magi on the pretence of being interested in visiting the child himself. Of course we know that the Magi do not return to Herod. It is believed that this is what sets him off on his gruesome mission. But Herod was not always this bitter, twisted figure that appears in the Bible. In his early days, he was a wise and exceptional ruler. He rebuilt many towns and oversaw the refurbishment of the Temple in Jerusalem. He established new ports and stimulated trade and commerce. Rome highly respected him but the people of Palestine had a different view. In spite of his great achievements, he was something of a tyrant and even went so far as to execute any of his family whom he believed had any designs on taking his throne. To add fuel to the fire, Herod had designed his mausoleum in a place he called Herodium close to Bethlehem. With everything that Herod was thinking, feeling and planning, it was inevitable that he would go down in history as the Monster of the first Christmas. And while Herod’s plan is carried out, Joseph, Mary and the baby escape to Egypt. But before this happened, the family had already made two trips: one for the circumcision of the infant at the age of 8 days and the second for the purification of Mary forty days after the birth. Then, after the visit of the Magi, the family had to take an even longer and unexpected journey. In a dream, Joseph is warned of the impending danger from Herod and is told to take his family and flee to Egypt. The New Testament tells us nothing about the actual route but it is most likely that they took the coastal route from Bethlehem through Gaza and on to Egypt. There are at least two places claiming to be the place in Egypt where the family lived. One is in Cairo itself where there is a crypt below the church of St. Sergius. I myself was able to see this crypt on a visit to Cairo in 2000. But their time in Egypt was not long. When Herod was dead, word came to Joseph in a dream again. But the son of Herod named Archelaus was on the throne and he was as ruthless as his father; and so the family continued on their way past Bethlehem and on up to Nazareth where they could resume their life in the midst of family and friends. Joseph, the carpenter, was leading a quiet life in Nazareth fully expecting to carry on his father’s business, get married and raise a family in peace. Never in his wildest dreams would he have expected to be asked to be the foster father to the Son of God. It is a miracle and a great blessing for all of us that Joseph accepted his role in the events that brought God into the world in human form and that he continued to provide for and defend his young family. He is only mentioned once more in the record and that is when Jesus is 12 and the family visit the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. IT is believed that Joseph had passed away before the culmination of Jesus’ ministry. There is no record that he was with Mary in the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. This is inferred from the time when Jesus was presented at the temple and the aged Simeon turns to Mary and prophesies that her heart will be pierced. The prophet spoke directly to her and not to Joseph. Of course, no one could even imagine that Jesus would die so young. As for Mary, tradition in many of the Christian branches of the church makes much of her. She is the one chosen to carry the seed of God and to bear the child and bring him into the world. Her name is an alternate form of the name of Moses’ sister Miriam. Mary means “the Lord’s beloved” and it was a common name in that day. Her parents are identified as Joachim and Anna. And in spite of the fact that attempts have been made to identify the home where Mary was when the angel visited her and later the home where Joseph and Mary raised Jesus, the only site that we can be certain of is the one known as the well of Mary. It remains the only public well in Nazareth and no doubt was the same well that Mary would have drawn water. Unlike Joseph, Mary appears several times throughout the ministry of Jesus. She is portrayed as a woman of much spiritual sensitivity, loyalty and concern. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Mary is seen as being involved in the founding of the church in Jerusalem. From there various accounts place her in Asia Minor with John. One tradition maintains that she died in Ephesus while another maintains that she died in Jerusalem. Mary would always share a unique bond with her children as most mothers do but the bond she would share with Jesus was one beyond any other. His conception and birth set him apart from all others in the world and set her apart from all other women. Scripture records that she pondered all these things and kept them in her heart. And while we are far from those days, we can certainly believe that when Luke wrote his version of the Christmas story that he had the first hand account of the one who had lived it – Mary, the mother of Jesus. The final part of this untold story is perhaps the best known. After all the first Christmas is about the baby; it is about the one who grew up to become the person we know as Jesus Christ. But born He was and His birth changed history, it wrenched the world’s chronology so that its years pivot around His birth and His life has touched and continues to touch countries, cultures, civilizations and untold millions of lives. The supreme paradox must be this: the person behind this achievement taught publicly for only three and a half years; he wrote no book; he had no powerful religious or political machine behind him; and yet he became the central figure in human history. The book about his life and accomplishments has been read by billions of people in more than 2,000 languages and yet there is no biography of his life. The four accounts which we know as the gospels describe parts of His life but the focus is on the message He brought. The Gospels never pretended to be biographies for their purpose was to give the reasons for Christ’s birth, life and death. But this has not stopped people over time from seeking to find out stories about Jesus in those missing years. But the truth is that His childhood was probably similar to those around him. He would have studied at the synagogue from the age of five and no doubt learned the Torah as well as the languages of Aramaic and Hebrew and common Greek which was the universal language of the Roman Empire. He worked in his father’s shop and would have been apprenticed to learn the family business. He was a gifted orator who spoke with authority. Yet to those who did not share His vision, He was a deceiver, a false prophet. One thing is for sure there was never a neutral feeling. People either loved Him or despised Him. And He was no ascetic: He enjoyed a good time, provided party supplies on one famous occasion and loved good friendships with all kinds of people. He was no legalist, He was not intolerant, and He was no wimp. He had stamina. Whether he is recognized as the Son of God or not, Jesus is widely regarded as one of – if not the most – influential people in all history. Yet it is said that in spite of all that He said and did in His life, He probably never forgot that story his mother told him of that time when he was born. And I am sure that even He marvelled at the story of angels over Bethlehem, adoring shepherds and humbled wise men, the story of the first Christmas.