Bible Text: Hebrews 5:1-10 and John 12:20-33 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Praying by J.I. Packer Over the last few weeks we have been following a path to prayer that the author says is more about a who-to than a how-to. But to get to that point where we are focused on the who-to we need some how-tos along the way. First he encouraged us to understand who is the God we want to pray to and then to understand that this is a God who does not just tell us who he is and what he can do but also a God who seeks to be in a real relationship to us. He wants to be a companion to us on this journey called life in general and our lives in particular. And he has chosen to reveal himself in three significant ways in order to help us gain an understanding of how we can relate to him – as a parent, as a visible companion in Jesus and as a spirit that can enter our hearts, minds and souls and bring us gifts of wisdom, peace, and hope. So when we make the choice to have God as our companion and friend on this journey, we come to understand that we will never again travel the path alone. But we also come to understand that we can become distracted and veer off the path that God desires us to follow. But while following those distractions and by-paths we learn that God is ever calling out to us to come back to the real path. With a patience beyond our imagining, he continues to call us until once again we find ourselves back on the way. All of this is really preparation for prayer because as we commit ourselves to being in a relationship with God, we are preparing to speak with God in a real and honest way and also preparing to listen to God speaking to us in a real and honest way. Remember that Packer said that a real friend does not respond to our wants and perceived needs simply because we believe them to be what we really need and want. A real friend understands the situation and the dynamics of our situation and responds in a way that shows a deep care and affection for us. A real friend wants the best for us even if the best may not seem like the best at the time. And if we really trust that friend, we will listen and accept what they say even if it is not what we want to hear. But we can become distracted and we can find ourselves not really listening – perhaps because we have already made up our mind as to what we really want or need and have closed ourselves off to having a conversation or dialogue with our friend. Prayer is so much more than just closing our eyes and going through the motions. Prayer is our dialogue with the one with whom we will have an eternal relationship. And so Packer encouraged us to consider brooding prayer or meditative prayer or contemplative prayer. He reminds us that meditation is as old as the creation of humanity and God ever encouraged people to meditate on his words and commandments. Finding our focus through brooding or meditative prayer is an opportunity to reflect on the Scriptures and begin to seek for a deeper understanding of what God has said to people throughout the ages. In this way we draw ourselves into a place where we not only better understand the one whom we are seeking to pray to but we also can begin to see more clearly the answers we need to the situations we face in our journey. And so we come to the next element on this exploration of prayer: praising. C.S. Lewis came to believe in God as an adult. Once he made the decision, prayer became a big part of his life pattern. But Lewis also had lots of questions. He wondered: why does God, the God of the Bible, the God of Christianity, call on us to praise him? He said,” we all despise the man who demands continual assurance of his own virtue, intelligence, or delightfulness.” Did God want praise so that he could feel good about himself? Is a prayer of praise an opener so that we can get to the stuff that matters to us? Lewis answered these questions in this way. We praise God not because God demands praise but because it is an expression of our gratitude for what God has done for us and in us. Praise is an active enjoyment of a renewed display of God’s active love. Our praise together in church as a body of God’s people is an expression of that gratitude corporately and helps to draw us into a deeper sense of the presence of God. Our prayers of praise help us to once again declare audibly who God is and also can remind us of how we have distanced ourselves from our God. Our praise of God is to become a discipline for us and part of our regular spiritual nourishment or diet. The discipline of offering praise to God helps us to stay focused and remember not only the nature of our relationship to God but also the difference that that relationship can make in our everyday lives. When we come together in a corporate body to worship, the discipline of prayer and praise become more regular and we come to depend on one another to be there so that we might be encouraged. Praising God in prayer also needs to be a part of our overall communication with God as it helps us to find the balance that a good diet always brings. Then we come to recognize that to give praise to God is a duty in the sense that we owe it to our friend and companion to never forget the benefits we have from our relationship and it also becomes a delight when we truly appreciate that relationship, the love, the grace, and the forgiveness. And now for the final answer as to why we give praise to God. We often say that we expect to be in heaven with God when this life is over. But when we get there, will we know what is expected of us? C.S. Lewis says that the praises we offer here, our times spent in corporate worship as well as our individual times of prayer are all preparation for us to be able to continue to praise God in heaven. We teach our children to read, to write, to take care of themselves in so many ways and encourage them to practice these things so that when they become adults, they can continue to take care of themselves. In a similar way, we are taught by the generations that precede us how to offer praise to God, how to sing praises to God, how to become disciplined in prayer, that we might know and never forget how to be a thankful people. I have mentioned many times the experience I had in Morrisburg back in the 1980s. A coming together of Christians who had chosen different expressions of faith and were in different worshiping communities of faith and yet could come together as one body to offer praise and prayer to God and encourage and support one another. That experience taught me much about the importance of praise as prayer and prayer as praise. It showed me that even in our diversity we could find unity when we chose to adopt the discipline and diet of praise to God. Clearly there are many elements to prayer and many things to learn and consider but above all may we remember this. Everything we do, everything we say is to be done to the glory of God and to the further development of our relationship to him both individually and corporately. AMEN
Bible Text: Ephesians 2:1-10 and John 3:1-21 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Praying by J.I. Packer Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Anglican Book of Prayer 1549) Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psalm 119:97) Brooding may sound like a strange title for a message on praying and I must admit that I was puzzled by the word. But as we seek to develop a relationship with God, with our friend and companion on this hike through life, Packer wants to encourage us to consider what he calls brooding prayer. As much as Packer wants to focus us on who-to in our praying, he recognizes that there will always be a need to mention some of the how-tos. What he calls Christian brooding could also be called meditating. But he wants us to understand that what he is thinking of when he uses the word meditation is not an exercise similar to Eastern or New Age religion. Brooding or meditating is a spiritual discipline that is intended to ripen, stabilize and strengthen our renewed and renewing hearts. He sees it as a vital, energizing element in our communion with God. It is about directing our thinking and bringing discipline to our living and our praying. So often the term brooding can have a negative connotation. But Packer wants us to focus on the positive side of brooding. Self-indulgent forms of brooding can lead to moodiness and be destructive to us. But he wants us to see brooding in a new light, as an activity that can help us control our random thoughts and help us to focus our thoughts in a clear, orderly, vivid and nourishing way. He wants us to really reclaim the word meditation and use it in the most constructive way possible. But to keep us from letting ourselves get distracted and take a by-path, he chooses to use the word brooding. So what is the nature of this Christian brooding or meditating? First it is to be described as thinking in God’s presence, thinking before the Lord, thinking about the Lord and our life in his world, by his grace and under his sway. He then brings to mind the picture of a cow chewing its cud. Cows don’t eat their food once but more than once. In a somewhat similar way, Packer says we are to chew over the lessons we learn from God’s word and so gain a depth of wisdom, motivation in our life and nourishment. We may even speak out loud in our meditating but it is not a sign that we are crazy. Now for some rules to help direct us in Christian brooding or meditation. The first rule is: meditate on God with God. Remember that we are coming to God as a friend and seeking to speak with God. So we come with a humble spirit to show our love for God. The second rule is: meditate on the word in the Word. Remember that we can learn much from meditating on the words contained in passages of Scripture. As we do so, we will be looking to God for help, guidance and direction as we seek to discover his mind and will and then seek to have our lives affected by what we learn. The third rule is: Don’t get discouraged by the unevenness of your focus. God is a patient listener and teacher. When you find your thoughts wandering, gently bring yourself back to the subject or word or words that you have chosen for your time of brooding or meditating. Another term you may have heard for what we are talking about is contemplation or contemplative prayer. Whether we choose to talk about meditation, brooding or contemplation, we need to be thinking about our relationship to God, thinking about God’s purposes, God’s greatness, achievements and blessings. And then what it means to respond to God. Thinking in the presence of God becomes talking to the Lord directly, and talking to God leads back to further thinking in his presence. When this discipline becomes a habit for our inner being, we will find God inhabiting both our hearts and our minds, enabling us to truly think and feel and move in a sustained attitude of prayer. And so we are encouraged to meditate on God’s Word. The practice of meditating on the word of God is as old as the earliest times of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament. Every leader of the people was encouraged to meditate on the law of God both day and night and so find and keep direction in life. To help us use the Bible more effectively in our meditation, Packer suggest seven images for us to consider: 1) we need to see the Bible as a library of different books written in different times; 2) explore the Bible as a landscape of human life; 3) read it as a letter written by God for you; 4) value the Bible as your listening post listening for the Spirit of God; 5) explore the law of God not in a legalistic sense but as instructions given by a loving friend; 6) think of the Bible as your light in the darkness of life; and 7) cling to it as a lifeline taking note of the assurances God gives to people as you read the Scriptures. We are also encouraged to meditate on the works of God. We are to read the ways in which God has been actively involved in the lives of people in the past and so begin to see where God is actively involved in our lives. We can meditate on the promises of God, on the grace God has shown us, on the forgiveness we have received and the hope that Christ’s victory over sin and death has given us. And so we have come to learn that as Christians it is a good thing to be brooding or meditating or contemplating our life with God. We have also come to understand that God has ever encouraged people to meditate or to brood or to contemplate and that it is a way of connecting with God and coming to a deeper understanding of his words and his intentions for us and for the world. But is there one right way to meditate? Well let’s be clear about one thing, meditation is not an end in itself; it is to be seen as a prelude to prayer. Meditation allows us to put ourselves in a place where we can be more open to developing a relationship with God that leads to a who-to in praying. So how do people meditate? All I can do today is to briefly outline some techniques. You can follow the practice of Benedict called Lectio Divina in which a single passage or part of a passage is meditated on. A second technique is to take one of the Gospel narratives and imagine you in the scene as an observer. A third technique is to focus on a theme or a topic. A fourth path is to pray a prayer from the Bible. You can take the prayer itself and then begin to see yourself or someone else in the prayer and then meditate on that. Have we found ourselves spiritually anorexic, half-starved in our relationship with God or our growth in Christ seeming to be stunted or have we found difficulty moving ahead in our faith? Perhaps one of the great drawbacks of our Protestant approach to God and faith is that we tend to live our faith on the surface and may have allowed ourselves to be more concerned with rules than with the spirit. Bringing back into the practice of our faith the freedom to embrace meditation will do much to encourage us to grow in faith and will allow us to explore a depth of relationship with God on a more personal note than perhaps we have allowed ourselves to explore. As I close this today, remember that our faith is to be more than a matter of external observance, that is to become a matter of internal life, a life lived in and with the One who calls us his children, the friend we are to come to know more intimately – the Lord! Amen
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 and John 2:13-22 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Praying by J.I. Packer The Path and the By-Paths In the Psalms we find these words: Lord, teach me your way, so that I can live by your truth. Teach me to serve you with complete devotion. Teach me, Lord, the meaning of your laws, and I will obey them at all times. (Ps 86:11; 119:35) We are following a path for the next number of weeks that will help us to explore praying and prayer not from a how-to approach but a who-to approach. We trust that we will come to find delight in prayer rather than just finding prayer a duty. We trust that we will come to a better understanding of the purpose of prayer and its place in developing and sustaining our relationship with God. If you have never read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, I urge you to do so. While it may seem dated, Bunyan’s allegory on the Christian life contains a wisdom that transcends time and space. While it may not correspond totally to your experience, it nevertheless paints a picture of the Christian journey in life that will no doubt resonate with many. Today we are going to focus on the path of prayer and speak about the by-paths. Packer likens this focus to a hike. If you have ever set out for a hike on a well-marked trail and then seen a path to the side that looked like a real path and decided to take it instead of the well-marked trail, you may have found yourself on a by-path. I found one something like what he is talking about near Banff Alberta. I went for a hike with my oldest son. We expected to be gone 2 hours. Somehow we lost the main trail and found ourselves on what amounted to a goat path clinging to the side of a mountain that overlooked a deep valley. With no hiking sticks and no water we spent another three hours winding our way searching for a familiar landmark. Finally we scrambled up the side of the mountain where we found a campsite and a phone. We then called Diana to come and get us. The experience was one we would never forget but not long to repeat. By-paths can be great adventure but they can also bring great danger. Just as Packer has encouraged us to come to a clearer understanding of who God is in his nature and begin to see that we are being invited to come to God in prayer as a friend, he wants us to find the authentic path of prayer so that we may not find ourselves on a goat path that leads us away from God but on a path that will keep our feet firmly on the way of God. He wants us to see our lives as one long hike – through all its ups and downs – in the company of God who is our companion on the journey. So what are the marks of this true path of prayer? The first mark is to follow instruction we find in Scripture. Packer encourages us to read the Psalms and to read what Paul and others have said about prayer. The second mark is our commitment to a way of life. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ and decide to live as Jesus’ disciples, we are to follow his teachings and so commit ourselves to the way of life given to us by Jesus. The third mark is purity of heart. But by purity of heart he is not thinking of purity in the strict moral sense but rather heeding the first and greatest commandment of which Jesus reminded us: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Purity of heart is a matter of willing one thing and that is to live every day of one’s life loving God – being single-minded and so being pure in our heart’s affection and focus. Now this may sound like an impossible path to follow, but Packer says that this is the path that God asks each believer to follow and that we can follow that path to God through prayer because God will be patient with us. Our study of Scripture, our commitment to the way of life revealed by the teachings of Jesus and our willingness to love God in heart, mind and soul will draw us along the path of prayer and help us to avoid the by-paths that would tempt us. And what are the by-paths? The by-paths can be many and varied. They often come when we are seeking quick answers to life’s struggles; when we pray for immediate relief for a situation that is troubling us in mind, body or spirit. They also come when we offer a prayer and feel that we have not received an answer to that prayer; or when our prayer becomes more of a demand for a specific outcome rather than seeking to understand the way of God and how that may influence our prayer and the response we will receive. At other times it can be when we try a new method of prayer in the hope that it – by itself - will help us to a better relationship with God. Consider this: does a good friend always do whatever you ask just because you think it is what is needed, or does a good friend listen, give advice or opinion and help you to truly discover what it is you truly need. So often we simply scratch the surface of prayer but fail to truly engage God in our prayers. And that can be the greatest by-path of them all. Going back to the Pilgrim’s Progress, we need to note that the decision of the pilgrim to follow the path of God is not one that is taken alone. The pilgrim has a companion. Somehow we forget that Jesus sent the disciples out two by two – never alone. Yet somehow we have come to believe that our relationship to God and with God is a matter for ourselves alone. True, we each need to take the path of faith for ourselves but we are encouraged to take companions. The Camino walk in Spain says that even if you start the walk alone, you will end it with companions. Jesus himself begins his ministry alone but he ends it with companions. True enough, the companions abandon him at what may be seen as his hour of greatest need but they return and he still considers them companions. In fact, he considers them friends. Packer feels that we need to capture this when talking about our life together as Christians in community. Rather than talking about our fellowship with one another, we need to talk about our friendship with one another and our friendship with God as articulated by Jesus. And what is a friend? Friendship is more than mere acquaintanceship; it is a bond of intimacy built out of mutual trust, truthfulness, care and accountability. James Houston – in a guide to devotional reading – said that “a true friend in Christ will wake me up, help me to grow, and deepen my awareness of God.” (Packer, Praying, pg. 52) For Packer this is the friend we have in Jesus. So our decision to follow the authentic path of prayer will involve us in an understanding of prayer throughout the history of Scripture, it will encourage us to commit ourselves to following the way of God as revealed through Scripture and lead us to a true love of God that we may not find our heart, soul or mind divided but focused on that friendship that God seeks to have with us and we come to understand that we seek to have with God.
Bible Text: Romans 4:13-25 and Mark 8:27-33 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Praying by J.I. Packer The God we pray to Prayer is an integral part of our life as Christians both individually and corporately. We have prayers of approach, of adoration, of confession, of thanksgiving and of intercession; we have prayers before the reading of Scripture and prayers after we receive our offering; we offer prayers of blessing for meals and we have personal times of devotional prayer – perhaps in the morning and/or the evening. Now I am sure that all of us pray – some more, some less. I am also sure that most of us have struggled with prayer; for as much as we know that it is necessary and normal for us to pray, we have no doubt discovered that – in practice - praying is not always an easy thing. In the Bible, we read the commands and encouragements to pray; in response to their request, Jesus taught the disciples to pray; and Paul calls prayer part of the armour of God that every Christian must put on; in fact, he goes so far as to say that all believers are to be praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18). He then adds that: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). Yet we end up struggling, and not just over making time for prayer or finding a place for it. Our thoughts wander, our hearts want to pray but we find difficulty expressing ourselves. Whether we are using our own words, trying to be silent or reciting a set prayer we can find ourselves questioning whether or not we are really engaged in our prayer. J.I. Packer, the author of the book Praying, whose words will guide us for the next number of weeks, knows that good praying is at once both a duty for us as Christians but that it should also be a delight. His objective in writing this book is to help us move from seeing prayer as simply a duty and come to find true delight in our prayer. So we will explore prayer and the practice of praying that we might grow in our knowledge of prayer and come to a place where we find prayer a delightful and refreshing part of our life with God. Now sometimes we think that we are in a generation that has more difficulty with prayer because our lives often do not leave space or time for prayer; but the reality is that every generation has struggled to find the time and space to pray. Even Jesus had to remove himself from the everyday movement of life to gain space and time for prayer. Packer believes that in spite of the struggles we find we have with prayer; it is possible to have heartfelt and meaningful realism in our prayers. He sees three things as key to this: 1) a clear realization of the reality of God; by this he means knowing those facts about God that he himself has told us in the Bible. 2) a continual practice of the presence of God; that is, an awareness that one is always under God’s eye and in God’s hands as well as in the intimate company of God. We have the companionship of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and 3) a constant endeavour to please God every day of our lives. This comes from our love to God as we wonder at the creation that surrounds us and also wonder at what God has done through Jesus Christ to redeem our lives. Let’s begin this journey by looking at some truths about God that we might better understand the God we pray to. The first truth is that God is personal. God presents himself to us in personal terms; he is the God who is here and who meets us, has his eye on us and takes an interest in us as persons just as we take a personal interest in each other. And so God’s relationship to humans involves us in personal and real dialogue. God speaks and we listen for God’s words; we speak and God listens to our words. The second truth is that God is multi-dimensional. We know that God is one but we also have come to know God as a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We know that each is part of God is a revelation of who he is and gives us a fuller understanding of how we can relate to God and God to us. The third truth is that God is unique. We can have a relationship with this God because we know his name. When asked who he was, God answered the people. He said I am who I am; or I will be who I will be” or “I am what I am.” And of all the names that people used, the one most common was the term we hear so much of in the Old Testament – Yahweh. This is the covenant name God gave to express his commitment to the people. The fourth truth is that God is powerful. God is able to be present to us even in the most trying and difficult moments of our lives. We think of God as being present with us in our innermost being and able to guide and help us. The fifth truth is that God is purposeful. From the beginning of time through the fall of Adam and Eve, through all the events in the history of the people of Israel, to the coming of God in the person of Jesus, to the granting of the Holy Spirit and to the promise that Christ will return, God reveals his purposes. And his ultimate purpose is to bring us into a close and lasting relationship with him. Packer states that “the Christian life is a matter of developing friendship with God, friendship that flows from the Father’s gift to us of our Lord Jesus Christ, who…now makes friends with us…” (Praying, p. 29) God seeks for our lives to be transformed that we might feel that intimate connection and so live out the reality of this friendship through prayer. The sixth truth is that God is a promise-keeper. God has ever kept his word. The greatest promise of all is that through Jesus our sins are forgiven and we can have hope and peace in believing in the word of God. The seventh truth is that God is paternal but also maternal. While revealed to us as the Father, God has also shown us his maternal side when the Scriptures speak about the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Bible there are many places where we are told that God is like a Father to us but we are also told of God’s maternal caring side as well. The eighth truth is that God is praiseworthy. The first seven truths about God are keys to God’s character, his way of being and his way of acting. When we praise God, we are realizing that for all the focus God puts on us and our relationship to him, we need to put a focus on God and be thankful for the opportunity to know him and so we offer our praise. One last thing for today: Packer wants us to be aware that his approach is less a “how to” than a “who to” approach to praying. Coming to a knowledge of who and what God is, we have to be clear who we are when we come to God in our prayers. When we ask God for an interview, requesting his attention – which is what we do when we pray – we need to be very clear in our own minds not only about who he is but also about who we are and what constitutes a humble, honest, realistic, reverent attitude toward him. We remember that we come to God as redeemed people – saved by grace – we come not just as servants but as adopted sons and daughters of God; not just as followers but as friends. So may we reveal our love to our God as Father, as Christ and as Spirit and learn to let our praying become ever more real.
Bible Text: 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 and Mark 9:2-13 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: The Great Emergence: based on the book by Phyllis Tickle The Great Emergence – Where is it going? Over the last two weeks we have been exploring the history of the Christian church and the great disruptions that seem to have come every 500 years. Each of these major disruptions changed the accepted way that the church viewed its mission and its purpose. Each disruption brought a change in the authority that guided the church. Each disruption in the church’s life was also associated with a similar disruption in the wider culture of the world. The coming of God in the person of Jesus Christ caused the very first disruption as Jesus’ teaching brought a message from God that challenged the ruling authority and brought into question a number of practices being followed by the Jewish nation. The second disruption occurred in the 6th century and was the culmination of a number of events including councils that debated doctrinal issues such as the human and divine natures of Jesus and the status of Mary. And while the church leaders were grappling with how to be the church of a great empire from the time of Constantine in the 4th century and resolve differences of thought surrounding the faith, the Roman Empire collapsed and with it came the start of what has been termed the Dark Ages. During this time community was organized into small kingdoms and estates. The anarchy that followed led the church to seek for a place of safety for the writings and traditions of the faith. This led to the establishment of monasteries and convents. The third disruption came with the dawn of the Middle Ages in the 11th century. This time saw the rise of tensions between the Eastern Church in Constantinople and the western church in Rome. Significant issues such as whether Greek or Latin should be the dominant language of the church liturgy; what type of bread to use in communion; and whether the Holy Spirit just proceeded from the Father or came through both the Son and the Father divided the church and was not reconciled for nearly a thousand years. This period also saw the rise of kings came to be seen as ruling by divine right. Church leaders saw this as an opportunity to reassert the church of preservers of the holiest of all places – Jerusalem; and so began the Crusades. The fourth disruption came with the Reformation of the 16th century. The abuses of authority and power that had come to mark the leadership within the Western Church led many to search for an authority that they felt could be trusted to remain without corruption. The Reformers believed that the church and the faith belonged with the people and not with the clergy alone. They advocated that all were priests and all could seek forgiveness for their sins from God; and so developed the belief in the priesthood of all believers and a push to make the Bible accessible to the population at large. What emerged from this time was a culture that felt the openness to question and explore. Through the freedom brought to the people of faith through the Reformation came the freedom felt in the society in general that led to discoveries that rocked the world of the 16th centuries. And so began the period we know as the Enlightenment, rationalism and industrialism. Authority in the Church had shifted from the hierarchy of ecclesiastical leaders to the Scripture itself. The study of Scripture was encouraged. But the encouragement people found in the study of Scripture also led them to discover conflicts in the texts and left them often with more questions than answers. Eventually this led to a new discipline in religious studies known as the historical-critical method. The Bible was no longer viewed as one long homogenous book but a series of books written by different authors in different times. This led scholars and others to ask whether the Jesus of Western history and thought was the same as the Jesus of Nazareth. One of the most famous books on the subject was written by Albert Schweitzer called The Quest for the Historical Jesus. It also led scholars to search for what indeed were the true words of Jesus. It is fair to say that we have seen a number of changes in the church generally and in our denomination specifically. We have seen shifts in our own interpretation of Scripture that has led to the acceptance of women as both clergy and elders within the Church. We have changed our ideas surrounding those who can participate at the Lord’s Supper or communion. We now celebrate an open table allowing children of all ages the right to take part. We have developed new confessions such as The Living Faith document which came out in the 1980s. And we continue to be challenged in our approach to the Scriptures and to the role of the Holy Spirit in shaping our life and directing our future as the church. No doubt this is where this Great Emergence will lead us allowing us to respect and honour the Scripture while looking for the leading of the Holy Spirit to make the Word of God and the presence of God be a living force in our lives. Without realizing it, I have been embracing the Great Emergence as I have debated, discussed and grown with Christians from different branches of the Church. I have come to appreciate the places that these different Christians come from and the perspective on faith and life that they bring. I have found that my struggles with matters of faith and life have not really differed from the struggles of others. I have come to realize that no one denomination holds the path to God. Each offers a perspective that can enrich our own journey of faith. Something else that I have come to realize over time is this. I grew up in a church that put adherence to certain rules of doctrinal belief and human conduct as prerequisites to membership but I have to understand more and more that today people first seek to belong to a gathering of Christians because of a shared sense of humanity and an affinity with the individuals sharing in the activities of that group. From there belief comes. And so people do not believe in order to belong but belong in order to believe. How do we encourage the dialogue that will bring the church to a place where it can find its path with God? By being open to receiving all who want to be part of the journey, encouraging the sharing of ideas and letting the Spirit of God show us how we can be the Church that we need to be for this time and so help one another to grow in faith. Feeling like your foundation of faith is being blown out of the water? Well, take heart. This has happened before and those who went through it found the path that God was calling them to take. They found themselves not discouraged or distraught but strengthened in their faith and life with God. They discovered that God indeed was a God not of the past alone with nothing new to share but rather a God who was very much a God of the present and a God of the future. AMEN
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Mark 1:32-39 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: The Great Emergence: based on the book by Phyllis Tickle So last week we discovered some things that we may or may not have been aware of. The history of Christianity has gone through a number of shifts, disruptions and restorations. Each upheaval was characterized by changes happening in the political, social and cultural landscape. The church’s response to such changes led to the disruption and the consequent shifts that led the church to a place where stability was once again achieved and the believers could feel secure that they had found the path that God had called them to take and could depend on the principles that they had discovered to guide them. It is easy to look back on history and see what was the root cause of disruptions suffered by others and even easier to understand the situation they faced and even their inability to see what needed to be changed; but it is difficult to see the root cause of our own disruption and not so easy to understand our own situation and be able to see what needs to change. Today we will look at some of the events that led to the Great Reformation of the 16th century and some of the events that have brought us to our own disruption. We know for a fact that when a significant event is marked as the beginning of a new era in history that that event is probably the culmination of a number of events. Case in point is Luther’s theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg Castle in 1517. What Luther put in writing were things that had been gnawing at the fabric of Christianity since 1378. From 1378 to 1418 the Italian and French princes each elected a pope. Each declared the other illegitimate and war ensued. To add to the mix there was a third pope elected by another group. The result was chaos within Western Europe – not only religiously but culturally, politically and socially. No longer could the church see clearly where the authority from God lay. If the church leadership could not be seen as authority, where could the church find its authority to centre itself and guide itself in faith? The answer given to the question of authority was answered in the principle: Sola scriptura, scriptura sola; only the Scripture and the Scriptures only. Tied to this was the principle that all of us are priests. No longer need a person confess to a priest but confession would be directly between the people and God – the priesthood of all believers. But to achieve these great principles would require the people to be able to read the Scriptures for themselves. The introduction of the printing press by Gutenberg enabled the dream of Wycliffe and others to come true. Literacy was no longer restricted to the elite in society or those to whom the church deigned to grant it. And while it would take centuries to achieve the literacy they hoped for, the gate had been open and people could read for themselves the words of Scripture. And we know what that caused – differences of interpretation. But along with this came changes in the ways that society in general was organized. It was at this time that movement of people from the country to the towns began. Cash began to be used as the basis of power, individualism was born, capitalism and the middle class emerged and the nuclear family made its first appearance. What was happening was a whole shift in the way the world was viewed and in the way in which life was being lived. At this same time, there were other major changes occurring. In 1514, Copernicus – a clergyman as well as an astronomer – first declared that the sun – not the earth – was the centre of the universe. He was followed by Columbus who did not fall off the edge of the earth. These things raised questions about the accepted belief in the cosmology of the church. If the earth is round, where is heaven and where is hell? Is God upstairs or where is he? Had the church gotten it wrong? Holes had appeared in the covering and the mesh of the cable and it opened the gate to questioning everything the church had ever held as absolute truth. This led the Reformers to not only form the principles that have been handed down generation to generation within the Protestant tradition of the faith but also to seek for how to interpret all matters related to the faith and so reframe and reconceptualise the Christian message and story and find again a consensus that all could accept. The freedom to think, to question that came with the Reformation in the church would lead to a whole new way of examining the world in which we live. The mid 1800s saw the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species and it became the tipping point that sent the world careening off into new cultural, social, political and theological territory. This can be seen as the point where the Great Emergence can be recognized and this is the time in which we are now living. But we need to recognize that it was not just in the secular society that major changes and shifts in thinking were happening. The rise of critical scholarship and biblical criticism as well as liberal theology happened at this time and by the beginning of the 20th century, there was even more diverse ways of looking at the Scriptures. The re-examination of the Scriptures in their historical and cultural setting led to people questioning the principle of Scripture alone and the inerrancy of Scripture. The flood of change was such that it prompted a meeting of Conservative Protestants who issued their own statement of 5 solas or principles necessary to claim true Christian belief: the inerrancy of the Scripture; the divinity of Jesus Christ; the historicity of the Virgin birth; the substitutionary nature of the Atonement ( in other word, that Jesus paid the price for our sin); and the physical, corporeal return of Jesus, the Christ. They would become known as the “Fundamentals”. And so the term fundamentalism was born. Later were added two more principles: the obligation to evangelize and belief in Jesus as a personal saviour. These principles form the core of evangelical Christianity. I have just scratched the surface of many of the challenges and changes that have come as a result of the Reformation of the 16th century and the questions about life in general and faith in particular that have been the subject of much debate over the last 500 years. But do not despair. The challenges that have come to us in this time are cause not to be afraid but rather to take hold of the questions that have come and seek for the wisdom of God to discover the answers. For us in the church today we will need to recognize that the society around us and even within us is composed of people who are the products of this time. The people who are coming to our churches now do not come with the same history, tradition and understanding of the world especially as it relates to God and faith. The cable will hold but we need to face the tears in the mesh and the covering and not just patch them in hopes they will hold but mend them in such a way that the cable will maintain its strength and so lead us forward to be bearers of a truth that will resonate with the minds and hearts of the people of this time and space. Next week, where is this Great Emergence going? AMEN
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 and Mark 1:21-28 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: The Great Emergence: based on the book by Phyllis Tickle The Great Emergence: What is it? It is a fact that the face of the Church today is different than it was when many of us were youths or even in our young adult years. We have seen changes in church attendance, in the ways we worship, the ways in which we order our day to day and week to week lives. We are keenly aware that the traditional place of the Church within society in general and within the lives of many people has changed. We can lament the change and pray for a return to that time or we can seek to understand what has brought about that change and so begin to find the place and purpose of the Church and our faith for this time. Somehow we can look back on the great disruptions and restorations that occurred in the Old Testament and even look at the disruption and restoration that happened with the coming of Jesus and the birth of the Church and convince ourselves that those things had to happen in order for the world to ultimately find its way to God. But then we imagine that somehow we have been in a holding pattern simply recreating that initial experience of the Church from its earliest moments and marking time until the return of our Lord. And even though we know of the Great Reformation of the 1500’s and celebrate the changes that occurred as a result of that movement, we do not want to even admit that such a change or changes could ever be needed again. The words of the writer to the Hebrews ring true and cannot be denied: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. But that phrase may not mean that nothing ever changes. Changes in the society around us can cause two things to happen to the church: 1) we can seek to engage ourselves in dialogue around those changes seeking for how we can be the people of God in this changing world; or 2) we can disengage from the world and hide in our bunker waiting for the end of all things to come. The reality is that whenever great disruptions and restorations occurred within the community of faith, there were fears that caused people to bunker but there was also courage to face the fears and seek for the presence of God and the wisdom of God to keep the Church honest and true to the gospel it had received. Bishop Mark Dyer – in a bit of wit and humour – has observed that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale. We are living in and through one of those sales. The point he is trying to make is that about every 500 years the Church looks at who it is and what it has become and begins to re-examine itself. And so we are not to fear this thing we are going through but give carefully consideration to what we will keep and what must be let go. Of course, most of what holds us back and prevents us from truly preparing for the rummage sale is our memories of what we most love about who we are and our fear of destroying those memories. But when the structure of our institutions inhibits real renewal and growth, we need to be prepared to shatter those institutions in order to allow something new to grow. And as much as that may scare us and make us wonder what will our Church locally and universally look like, we need to remember that we are not the first Christians to be faced with this challenge and let our look at how the rummage sales of the past gave us the Church and the faith that we have preserved for these past 500 years. To begin with let’s have a quick history lesson on the rummage sales of our past. The first rummage sale going back in time was the one we know best – The Great Reformation of the 1500s. It was a time that has been described as throwing the baby out with the bath water – an extreme form of cleansing or rummage sale that stripped the resulting Protestant churches of much of the visual parts of the faith. Unfortunately, as with many of the disruptions in the Church, dialogue broke down and the result was a break between the major branches of the Church which are still in the process of being addressed. Back of the Reformation of the 1500s was another rummage sale known as the Great Schism. This occurred in 1054 and was between the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church in Constantinople and the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome. The disagreements between them had festered for about a thousand years before the actual break occurred and it took to the middle of the 20th century before reconciliation was achieved. To us the issues might have seemed trivial but to them they were foundational. Back before this was the time known as “The Fall of the Roman Empire” or “The Coming of the Dark Ages”. This time in the history of the church was less of a disruption as the others were and more of a consolidation to preserve the truth of the faith. The fall of Rome brought with it a change in the society. Many of the peoples who invaded Rome adopted the Christian faith but did not preserve it. The church would go through a time when the principles of the faith would be changed beyond recognition. Into such a time, Gregory I, known as Gregory the Great, ensured that the witness of the early church and the writings as well as the orders and observances of the Church would not be lost. The convents and monasteries were given charge of everything until the time would come when the church could emerge again and find its proper voice. To help us come to terms with these disruptions in our religious and social history, Phyllis Tickle wants us to not lose hope for our ability to weather our own disruption which we have been experiencing as a people for at least 100 years. She uses the example of a ship’s cable. As we move forward in this series on the Great Emergence in particular and in our journey of faith in general, I want us to see the cable in our life. The cable represents the three strands that keep a firm connection between us in this time and the initial revelation that is our faith. The cable is our spirituality, our community and our ethics or morality. The mesh sleeve that surrounds this represents our common understanding of how we will live out our spirituality, how we will live in community and what ethics or morals we will seek to uphold. The waterproof covering represents our story, the story that we will tell the next generation of where we have come from, the trials, tribulations and joys that we have experienced and our hopes for the future. The cable is that interior strength that holds the boat firmly to the dock. It is composed of three strands of wire interlocked together, covered by a mesh sleeve and covered over again by a waterproof covering. The outer covering can be nicked and suffer damage but it can be repaired. Even the mesh sleeve can sustain damage and be repaired but the cable will ever hold the boat firm. Whatever this new emergence of the church will be and wherever it will take us, we can know that the cable will never let go and we will ever find ourselves on the path God intends for us to take. AMEN
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 and Ephesians 4:1-6 | Preacher: Rev, Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Can we achieve unity in our diversity? I have not had time to research the splits in both Judaism and Islam but it does appear clear that while all those who have chosen to express their faith in God through these religious expressions would say that they worship the one true God, they have found themselves separated by a number of things involving practice and interpretation that have caused not only spiritual divisions but also led to physical and mental persecution of one another. Of course Christianity is no saint when it comes to such things. We also share at the heart of our faith a belief in the one true God and we could probably all stand together and affirm that but we too have separated ourselves from one another through the formation of spiritual divisions involving practice and interpretation and have also inflicted physical and mental persecution upon one another. And while many of the spiritual divisions we know today began as earnest attempts to rediscover the true path of faith with God and therefore bring about the repentance of the body, the result often did not achieve its purpose and left the splintered group firm in its resolve to maintain the path it had chosen. The main body of believers were then to taught to consider the splintered group as heretics and worthy of ostracism from the society in general and the church in specific. At best they were shunned; at worst they were tortured and killed. All was done in the name of the God to whom all had pledged their lives. But what really is the driving force behind the division we find in these three faiths that declare a unity of faith in one God? Further, what causes us to believe that persecution, torture and death can change what has brought about these divisions? And can we claim to be as pure in our practice and interpretation of the faith as to be able to claim that we hold the ultimate path to God? Certainly we can find an answer to these questions but it is not one to which many of us would be willing to admit. It is our own ego and pride of believing that when we interpret the words of Scripture, we have discovered the ultimate truth and meaning and therefore can speak with all the authority of heaven. We can come to believe that no one else can speak the truth and that no one else can show us a path other than the one we have discovered. True we need to test the words we hear and determine if it is indeed the voice of God speaking and that the wisdom of God’s Spirit is in it. If we sincerely believe that we have found an interpretation that reveals the way of God for the world and its people, we have a responsibility to share that interpretation and encourage others to come to believe it but it is not for us to force our interpretation on anyone by words or actions. Consider this: have you ever come to a fork in a trail? Discovering two paths that lead to the same place, you choose one and your friend chooses the other. Each will bring you to the same place but each of you feels led to take your own path. Your path is no better or no worse than your friend’s. It is the path you feel will best take you to the goal. When we can begin to appreciate the different paths each of us are taking and listen to the reasons why each of us have chosen such paths, we will be better able to appreciate what lies at the heart of our faith and the life to which God invites us. I have been cautious in sharing with you my path as it has changed much over the years, has moved me in terms of how I see God and the church. I have found myself in places with people whom I may never have chosen but believe I have been led by God. These things brought me to the conclusion that I had much to learn from others whose expressions of faith differed from mine. I may not always have chosen to be influenced by such expressions to the point where I felt it was the path I was to take but I was prepared to learn from them and discover how these expressions of faith could teach me something about God and my response to God in word and action. I have experienced a charismatic community prayer group; I have taken part in spiritual retreats led by clergy and lay leaders from a denomination other than my own; I have become an associate with an Anglican order of nuns and have found the community’s life and worship to be critical to my faith development. I have received the elements of communion from clergy of many denominations and never once considered myself to be betraying the expression of the faith that has guided the branch of the church which I have known from my young days and in which I chose to be ordained. I even chose to become part of a congregation in a different denomination and would have stayed with that community of faith for years to come if God had not planned another path for my life. I know for a fact that there are people here today who have taken different paths in their faith journey before coming to this place; others of you are here just because of this day and you will return to the communities from which you have come. Your presence here, though, speaks of a desire to share this time of worship in this space. My prayer is that this time of worship will be a blessing to you regardless of the path you have chosen to express your faith in God and regardless of where your path will take you in the future. Can we achieve unity in our diversity is the question which is the title of this message today. Perhaps the better question may have been: can we find unity in our diversity and if we can find that unity can we or may we be willing to support the diversity of expression that God has granted to us within the body of Christ. If we seek to achieve unity we will be trying to do something that is only for God to accomplish – the creation of one people of faith. And so it will be for us to brag that we have done what God could not seem to do. Rather if we seek to find unity, we will be doing something that allows God to be God and enables us to ever be the people of God. Paul said that like the body, each of us has a place within the body of Christ. Each of us has value. We cannot nor must we all be the same. Yet as we come to better appreciate the place each of us has in the body of Christ and how the spirit of God has blessed each of us, we can begin to tear down the walls that we have built between one another and truly accept the blessing that each of us can be to one another. As followers of the Way of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, we have met challenges that have raised up walls and sowed seeds of division within us. By times dialogue has brought understanding and a sense of how to live together in a unity that recognizes God’s grace to each of us and God’s work of reconciliation in each of our lives. But dialogue has not always been our choice; and while it is true that we all do not speak the same language culturally, spiritually or linguistically, the unity we are to find through the grace of God is something that we are to never give up striving for. It may take us a generation more to settle some of the issues that face us today and represent the walls that we find between us and that keep us from full communion with one another. In a meditation prepared by the Presbyterian Church in Canada for a service of unity within the Church, there was a quote from Professor Barbara Wheeler who is the former director of the Auburn Centre for the Study of Theological Education. She wrote: “God hates walls and divisions and intends to save the world by breaking them down. If we want to stay close to God, we need to participate in this barrier-breaking project, not frustrate it… The community of God has no barriers to membership, not even sin. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. He didn’t wait until we got over it….When churches live up to their charter, nothing divides its members.” Christ has broken down the walls that separate us and we, too, are called to break down walls that divide. Our purpose as Christians is to glorify God. We cannot effectively glorify God id we are at odds with one another. By living in harmony and welcoming one another we witness effectively and give God glory. In the end it will not matter what we call our communities of faith. What will matter ultimately is that we have been faithful in our life and that we have sought to follow our path with God so that each one of us may be received into the everlasting light of God and the kingdom to which we are all called. I have not spoken of Robbie Burns in this message but I believe that Burns was much puzzled by the divisions he witnessed and was much troubled by the interpretations of the faith and the practices that he saw as contrary to what he understood about God and the message of the gospel. I am sure that he would have welcomed an opportunity to debate the issue of unity within the body of Christ. I want to end this message today by reading again the words from Ephesians that Paul wrote to the community of believers in that place: I implore you, then, as God has called you, live up to your calling. Be humble always and gentle, and patient too, putting up with one another’s failings in the spirit of love. Spare no effort to make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives. There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope held out in God’s call to you; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, NEB) AMEN
Bible Text: Mark 1:9-15 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp An Everlasting Baptism – Mark 1:9-15 The Gospel of Mark – which is the central gospel from which many of our Sunday Scripture readings will be taken this year – is a gospel that does not focus on the past by recounting the genealogical history of Jesus; nor does Mark spend great time discussing the birth and childhood of Jesus and he does not go into a great philosophical essay to highlight the connections that can be found in the revelations of God throughout all time. Mark begins his account of the life of Jesus at the moment when Jesus’ ministry and mission become public. The only Scripture he quotes is from the prophet Isaiah where it is said that a herald will prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. For Mark the one who came in his time to prepare the way for the Lord was John the Baptist and the one who came as the Lord was the one we know as Jesus. If we were to analyze the names of both John and Jesus, we come to see that the naming of these two figures was not by accident. John in Hebrew means God is gracious and Jesus – of course – means God who saves or he who saves. To think that the one who came to announce the good news that was to come through Jesus is named ‘God is gracious’ gives us a better sense of the mission given to John. The baptism by water in the river Jordan was meant to be for the people a sign of the graciousness of God, the willingness of God to invite the people to turn away from everything that had drawn them to follow a path in life that had led them away from God. That turning in their heart and mind was to be a sign that they recognized God’s willingness to forgive their sins. How God would provide an eternal forgiveness for sin was not yet clear but for all those who longed to be forgiven and longed for a peace in their spirits that they could not find in the society around them or in the interpretation of their faith in that day, the baptism of John was a sign of hope. The fact that John was led to choose the river Jordan was also significant. The river Jordan was the point that the people crossed when they came through the wilderness with Moses and entered into the land promised them by God. As they moved from the wilderness, they came to what was to be for them a home. And in that home they built a kingdom and then two kingdoms. For a time they listened carefully to God and recognized him as the ultimate authority but then their desire to govern themselves led them to believe that God could be what they wanted him to be. The place of God in the lives of the people changed. In time the people lost their homeland. Their return after the exile was to be a time of rebuilding – not only their physical surroundings but also their spiritual life. But somehow the connection never happened and they found themselves drifting – unable to fully come to a place where they could feel the graciousness, the love, the peace, the forgiveness from God, the relationship with God which God hoped they would seek. And as those who recognized the graciousness of God in John came willingly to be cleansed by the waters of the Jordan seeking for the truth that would set them free physically and spiritually to be the people of God, so Jesus came; not because he needed to received the graciousness of God but because when he communicated the good news of the kingdom of God, he could be seen as one who had passed through the waters of repentance and was one who likewise was seeking for the forgiveness of sin. Now baptised and ready to communicate to the people the reality of the kingdom of God and the good news of that kingdom, Jesus – the God who saves and will save – undergoes his first test. He is driven into the desert, into a spiritual vacuum by the very Spirit of God that he will later give to those who will believe in his message. God puts himself in Jesus in a place where he can be tempted like the people were in their desert wandering. The forty days mirror the forty years and at the end of it just as the people passed into the Promised Land so Jesus comes forth to bring a message of a kingdom unlike any other – the kingdom of God. “The time has arrived,” he says, “the kingdom of God is upon you. Repent and believe the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15, NEB) And so it begins. The graciousness of God has been revealed through John who has invited the people to receive the baptism with water and so look for the forgiveness of sin. The salvation of God is then revealed through Jesus who then invites the people to remember their repentance and believe the gospel. Throughout the gospel of Mark, the kingdom of God will be revealed to the people through preaching, teaching and healing. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts and minds open to the message and actions of Jesus will indeed discover that the kingdom of God is upon them. They will come to know God’s love for them; they will experience a peace of spirit and mind and they will know for once and all that any place in their lives where they felt separated from God or from one another, they would be forgiven and they would find the wisdom of God to guide them. Ultimately they would experience baptism with the Holy Spirit and through it discover an infilling with the presence of God that they could never have imagined possible. The baptism with water by John was the sign for the people of a gracious offer from God to forgive the sin of all who turned back to God. The baptism with the Holy Spirit would be the gift of God to the people to enable them to grow in their commitment to the kingdom of God as revealed through the good news brought to them in Jesus. It would be an everlasting baptism for this baptism would not just be for the people a sign of their commitment to God but the baptism in the Holy Spirit would be a sign of God’s eternal commitment to the people. As Christians we are encouraged to seek for the gifts of the Spirit of God but also to seek for the fruits of the Spirit. And while our dedication to life lived as believers may have started with the sprinkling of water, our true baptism comes when we allow God to bless us and baptise us with the Holy Spirit. Allowing the Spirit of God to descend upon us opens us to the fullness of life that God seeks for us to have both now and forever. And as we seek to grow in our faith, we let that initial touch of God’s Spirit continue to work in us to bring to a fullness of life that will enable us to treat one another with more than kindness, grow in wisdom that goes beyond the wisdom we see in the world around us, gain self-control over words and actions and emotions, learn even more how to pray and allow the Spirit to direct our prayers, and so come to love one another in a way that reflects the deep and unconditional love of the One who has not only been gracious enough to welcome us home but has given all he has that we might have this new life not only now but forever. . I pray that we will ever seek to receive this gift of God and so grow in our understanding of and our life as the people of God. AMEN
Bible Text: Isaiah 40:1-11 and Mark 1:1-8 | Preacher: Speaker: Donna McIlveen Today, on this second Sunday of Advent, the focus is on peace. The advent of peace…or the coming of peace. The word advent is from the Latin word for ‘coming’…the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. And today we reflect on the coming of Christ…the gift of peace…given for us gathered here in worship, and for everyone. In the second hymn we sang today – People in darkness – each verse is a prayer longing for the coming of the four gifts of advent…love, hope, peace and joy. The third verse is peace and the prayer goes like this: People in trouble would like to be free…come, come, come, Jesus Christ. People with arguments want to agree…come, Lord Jesus Christ. These days of adventure when all people wait are days for the advent of peace.The two words the author of the hymn chose to focus on for peace are ‘freedom’ and ‘agree’. What are some other words that go hand in hand with the word peace? Tranquility…calm…restfulness… quiet… serenity… harmony…order… ceasefire… silence. When we picture such words, we might imagine a peaceful scene like a walk along a beach…or the quiet of early morning. We might reflect upon the sense of relief that is experienced upon receiving good news. Perhaps it was the peace of reconciliation with someone you had been having arguments with, or were estranged from. Or perhaps you pictured peace and freedom. Like the words in the hymn…People in trouble want to be free. Free from an abusive situation. Free from worries. Free from pain. Or perhaps you thought of freedom from war and conflict…poverty and hunger. The images are plentiful…the need for peace great. The Nobel Peace Prize this year is being awarded today to ICAN – the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”. More than 70 years since atomic bombs were used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as tensions flare over the North Korean crisis, the Nobel committee sought to highlight ICAN's efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. ICAN was a key player in the adoption of a historic nuclear weapons ban treaty, signed by 122 countries in July. However, the accord was largely symbolic as none of the nine known world nuclear powers signed up to it.” The quest for peace continues and in our complex world…a world with short tweets that are herd around the world…there are no simple answers. The challenges are many. Today is also Human Rights Day. We know there are people around the world living in danger, hungry, exiled from their home land, longing for peace. Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10th and commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year Human Rights Day kicks off a year-long campaign to mark its upcoming 70th anniversary of the document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being…regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. We have the Nobel Peace Prize, and the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Strong messages that strive for peace. We know that the path to peace is not easy. Peacemaking involves more than the laying down of arms…though that is a necessary step. Peace is a gift from God that we are called to live, share, demonstrate, enact…in our daily living…in our corner of the world. And for Christians who follow the Prince of Peace, the path to peace begins with repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. Peace is what God announced at the first advent…is a gift that Jesus left with us…a promise that his light will guide our feet into the way of peace. Our gospel reading for this second Sunday of Advent – the Sunday of Peace – is the opening verses of the gospel of Mark. He quotes from the prophets including Isaiah: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the desert. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.” John – Jesus’ cousin – prepared the way for the coming of Jesus…for the advent of Jesus…the one who lights the path so we can walk in the way of peace. John the Baptist quotes from the prophets…words that would have been familiar to the people and that came at a time when the people would have been desperate for good news. It is thought that Mark wrote the first of the four gospel accounts, writing his gospel around AD 65-75. The city of Jerusalem was in ruins and the temple a pile of rubble. And into this setting arrives John. He is dressed like a prophet. His clothing is based on descriptions of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8 – a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist. And John’s task was to prepare the way. To tell the people to get ready for the Messiah. John’s whole life had been leading up to this time of baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John lived about 30 years and spent about 3 months preparing the people for the coming of the one who was more powerful than he. He called on the people to make straight their paths…to repent. John’s message was not an easy message… nor is it today. Repentance is a word we do not hear often today, but it is an ancient, good word. In Greek, it means “to change.” It indicates a change…a change of direction…a change from going one’s own way to going God’s way…to move in God’s direction…to be closer to God. It doesn't always mean a 180 degree turn, it may be a small re-direction onto the right path. At the same time, it may indeed call us to radically change the entire direction of our lives. What repentance does mean, is that we are willing to admit our mistakes and offer them over to God. It’s about living a life that honours Jesus Christ whose advent we wait for now and whose arrival we welcome at Christmas time. And in that honoring we are to live lives that are true to Jesus’ greatest commandment to love one another… to be concerned for one another…to have compassion for one another. When we live lives that honour Christ we are witnessing to others and sharing his gospel message – that advent message of hope…peace…joy…and love that we pray for this time of year. The Rev. Dr. Russell Levenson in his sermon Making Straight the Way, wrote these words: “As John set his life on a path of making straight the way for others, we are called to do the same. Jesus tells us time and time again, that the greatest of all commandments...of all laws, is the law of love – the law of concern for those around us. We, you and I, have an obligation to all those around us to take the skills and resources we have and make straight the path for others to reach the Kingdom, by pointing the way – as did John – to Jesus. That is why it is crucial that each of us give of ourselves beyond the simply Church attendance week after week. Not just by our actions, for that is merely humanism. Not just by our prayers and words, for that can dwindle into hypocrisy. We are called to – in all things – word and deed, prayer and action, by what we say and do, share the Christ story and thereby draw others into our journey to the end of the path.” Advent is a time for sharing the Christ story. And the Christ story goes beyond the babe in the manger which is sweet and lovely. The Christ story calls us to be peacemakers…to pray for peace in our families…in our community…and for peace in the world. We need to pray for peace during this Advent season as we prepare. As we prepare for God’s gift of peace, let us remember that however dark this world may seem some days…God has not abandoned us. God is with us and is always near. We can rejoice because Emmanuel, God with us, has come to us. God’s gift of peace comes as we know that we do not need to hide anything from God, but can bring everything, including our frustrations and disappointments with ourselves… all of our hostility and anger with the words and actions of other people… our confusion and concern for the world…we can bring it all to God in prayer. God’s gift of peace comes as we know that God has not given up on this world but is still at work seeking to encourage people to walk in his ways of peace. Today is December 10th. We are entering the second week of Advent. We know what is coming. So, prepare the way… make straight the paths… walk in the way of peace. Bring comfort to people. Share God’s word of peace. As you continue your preparations over the next couple of weeks… take time to reflect on advent…and who we are waiting for. The coming of Christ…the gift of peace…given for us all. Take time to prepare the way – ready your heart – for Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is coming. I would like to end with a prayer shared by the Rev. Herb Hilder of Prince George, BC. The prayer uses the opening verse of Isaiah 40: Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. So clear your mind of distractions. Close your eyes. Rehear Isaiah’s words as God’s words for you. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who face death and dreadful decrease – your own, or the life-threatening illness of a loved one. You who suffer as a result of HIV, AIDS, ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart attacks, strokes and tumors. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who are undergoing broken or strained relationships in your marriage. You who as children are living with such strain or brokenness. You who are at your wits end, confused or just plain exhausted and fed up dealing with family crises. You who are caregivers to aging parents, relatives or friends – hear these words from the Lord. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who live with underemployment, unemployment, redundancy, or too much work stress. You who live in or close to poverty, homelessness, or financial loss and bankruptcy. You, who have been persecuted, bullied, robbed and financially abused as a result of the greed of the powerful and influential. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who are children, teens and young people, intimidated or rejected by your peers, who have no friends, who feel abandoned by their family. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words you who are victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. You need and shall receive God’s comfort. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Hear these words from the living and loving God you who carry heavy burdens of self-blame, of guilt, of terrible self-image as a result of sin. Hear these towards as you are pressed down by stress hopelessness, sadness, loneliness, heartache and if you feel it is your entire fault. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Because the eternal God continues to come into our lives – especially in those times of despair and disorientation. God is here – today. Make no mistake about this! None of us are alone! Amen.