Bible Text: Galatians 2:15-21 and Luke 7:36-8:3 | Preacher: Reverend Bruce W. Kemp Today the passage of Scripture that I have chosen from the Gospel of Luke tells us of an encounter between Jesus, a Pharisee and a woman of the streets. It is a story that we can all identify with on some level and even find ourselves in its characters. There is the Pharisee – a teacher and interpreter of the law of God. His role in society is a privileged one not only because he is educated but because he is considered to have a keen understanding of God and what is most desired by God of the people. And yet it is clear that the Pharisees had rejected the call of John the Baptist to be baptized in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. It is interesting that this Pharisee – who is identified as Simon – is keen to have Jesus come to his house. In other versions of the encounter, the Pharisee is identified as Simon the leper. Then there is the woman. She is simply known as a sinner. From the thoughts going through the Pharisee’s mind, it has been assumed that she was a prostitute but that is never made clear. What is clear is that the woman is greatly troubled in her heart and mind. In both Matthew and Mark’s version, the story focuses on the woman in the story symbolically preparing Jesus for his coming passion and death but in Luke the story takes on a whole different purpose and tone. In Luke’s version, the encounter between Jesus, the Pharisee and the woman takes on a whole different tone. Perhaps what we have in Luke is more than just a story about a ritual preparation. This is a psychological profile and one that allows Jesus to speak to the judgments we make about others and the opportunities that we can realize for giving and receiving forgiveness. As a Pharisee, Simon’s leprosy would have isolated him from family and society in general and from his fellow Pharisees. His healing by Jesus would have restored him physically, spiritually and socially. His healing would enable him to once again take his place as a teacher and interpreter of the laws of God. No doubt he would have been deeply grateful for this and that may have precipitated the invitation he gave to Jesus to come to his house for a meal. Whether or not he was prepared to accept that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah is unclear but what we do know is that Simon saw Jesus as a righteous person like himself; and righteous people do not allow sinners to touch them. But Jesus does allow this woman to touch him; and she doesn’t just touch him, she coats his feet with her tears, she dries them with her hair and then spreads ointment upon them. Her actions are personal and come from a deep sense of wanting to show Jesus how much she believes in his words and the promise of God to forgive the sins of the people who come to him in faith. Simon has missed the point of Jesus’ message. He still imagines that the forgiveness of God is only for those who have made every effort to do what is right according to the laws of God. Simon knows that he is not perfect but sincerely believes that his path in life as a Pharisee has ensured that he will be forgiven of any of his sins. His leprosy may have been a sign that he had offended God in some way but his healing was a sign that God had forgiven him. But how much did Simon appreciate that gift of God to him? The woman is known as a sinner. She clearly is not one whom the Pharisee would expect to acknowledge God in a serious way or be acknowledged by God as worthy of his mercy and forgiveness. She had chosen a path that regularly broke the laws of God and – in Simon’s mind – she broke them with the full knowledge that she was acting in opposition to God. Such a person was to be avoided by those who sought to remain righteous and pure in the eyes of God. Simon had written her off and so had God. Jesus was obviously not the person he thought he was or he would have stayed clear of her as Simon was glad to do. Jesus sees in the eyes and the actions of Simon his discomfort and even disdain for this woman. Jesus takes Simon by surprise by asking him a question. Two men owe money to a creditor. One owes significantly more. The creditor decides to forgive them both. Which one is more grateful? The obvious answer is the one who was forgiven a larger debt. Simon answers correctly and Jesus says that he has judged rightly. Yet when faced by the truth about his own situation and that of the woman, he somehow is reluctant to consider that the woman may indeed be the more grateful one because he still cannot believe that she could even be forgiven by God. Simon may have been an exemplary Jew when it came to following laws and commandments yet he forgot some of the very basic directions that God gave to the people. He forgot to attend to the very basic human needs of his most honoured guest. It was customary in that time to offer water for a person to wash their feet. No such provision was made by Simon. He was so wrapped up in himself and his desire for Jesus and others to see him as a great follower of God. The woman knew that she was a person who had strayed far from the path of God. We are not sure how or why this happened in her life but she had come to a place where she desperately wanted to make a change. Whether the flask of ointment was intended to be rubbed on Jesus’ feet all along is not clear. What is clear is that she intended it as a gift – perhaps an act of penance; but her grief and remorse when in the presence of Jesus brought tears of sorrow to her eyes. Overwhelmed with emotion, she then proceeds to dry his feet. What else could she do to show her change of heart? She takes the flask of ointment and rubs his feet. In that encounter the woman offers a most personal service to Jesus. Without knowing it, she has touched God in a way she might never have imagined was possible and God allowed her to touch him. She was far from what we may imagine to be a follower of God, a righteous person; but she was a person who – in the eyes of God – was a person whose need of forgiveness was great. She had made mistakes in life but her love of God was so great that she was willing to enter the house of one whom she knew was judging and condemning her. But with Jesus there was no judgment, no condemnation. Her faith in the mercy and forgiveness of God as revealed by Jesus brings to her spirit and mind real salvation and with it the peace of God. One of the hardest things to accept is that mercy and forgiveness are the gifts of God for the people of God. Another thing that is hard to accept is that the people of God are not just those who appear faithful in worship and service of God. We who are here now in this place may have been here for a long time or a short time. This may even be our first time but we are not here to prove to anyone how good or righteous we are. We are here because we seek the mercy and forgiveness of God in our lives; and so I say to all of us here whether your sins are small or large: Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, strength and understanding; love your neighbour as yourself and receive into your life the promise of mercy and forgiveness from God and be at peace! AMEN
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 and Luke 24:1-12 | Preacher: Reverend Bruce W. Kemp Perhaps to our minds the idea that someone could actually rise from the dead does not seem as far-fetched as it probably did on that day when the women came to the disciples with the news. Even though they had seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead – an event that certainly was without precedent – the question would still have been how could the one who raised another from the dead be able to raise himself? The disciples may have not known what caused the death of Lazarus but certainly they had not seen him beaten or scourged or hung on a cross to suffer. The death of Lazarus was probably caused by something with which the people were familiar. Yes, it was a miracle that he was raised and that there was no odour as the body had been entombed for 4 days; but the death of Jesus was nothing like that. It was the result of a whipping, a beating, piercing of his hands and feet with nails and the wound of a spear through his side. There was no possible way that anyone could even begin to imagine that a body could survive such punishment and be alive. Even those who came to take the body for burial could attest that there was no life in the body. But when the women went to the tomb to anoint the body with spices – as was the custom – they found the stone rolled away and the body missing. Luke records that they were perplexed! That’s a subtle way of putting it. We can only begin to imagine all the scenarios that were running through their minds. Even though Jesus had spoken of rising from the dead, the real possibility of it probably never entered their heads. Suddenly they find what is described as two men in dazzling apparel standing beside them. Whether or not they recognized them as angels, their appearance unnerved the women. Their natural reaction was to bow their faces to the ground – no doubt from a sense of fear and in hope that the men would be merciful to them. After all, Jesus had been a source of trouble to the authorities and the women would no doubt have wondered if these were there to arrest any of Jesus’ followers who would seek to make the resurrection a reality by taking the body themselves. But the fears of the women are allayed when they come to realize that the men are angels sent from God to give to them the message that Jesus is alive. These messengers of God knew that the women would come to fulfil the customs of Jewish burial. They knew that they needed to be there to give the women the good news. They remind them of the words of Jesus while he was still in Galilee. And even though the whole thing seems impossible and incredible, they believe the men as they remember the words of Jesus and realize that they have come true. The women never see Jesus in Luke’s account but the messengers who confirmed Jesus’ words are proof enough for the women. They do not when or how they will find Jesus again but now they know for certain that they will no longer find him in the place of the dead but in the place of the living. And yet as much as these women had been with the disciples throughout Jesus’ ministry and had even stayed with Jesus long after most of the disciples had left out of fear, the message which they bring is not believed. In the words of Luke, their account is dismissed as an idle tale! It is significant that in every account of the passion of Christ, it is the women who are the first ones to visit the tomb. It is the women who report to the men that Jesus is raised from the dead. In John’s gospel is recorded the most loving and personal encounter of the women for there the sorrow of Mary is met by the presence of Jesus himself – a presence revealed to Mary before even the closest of Jesus’ first disciples. Returning to Luke’s gospel, the account that follows the reading today is what is known as the Walk to Emmaus. Two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus when they are joined by what appears to be a stranger. He joins their conversation as they discuss the events of the last week. Appearing at first to be ignorant of what has transpired, the stranger begins to interpret the Scriptures to them which point to the chain of events that occurred but also points to the truth of the women’s so-called idle tale. They invite him to join them in a meal. When he breaks the bread, their eyes are opened. Immediately he disappears from their sight. The experience leads them to depart again for Jerusalem despite the lateness of the day and they go to find the disciples. They confirm the words of the women and at that moment Jesus appears among them and confirms by eating a piece of fish that what they see is no unearthly spirit but indeed a person alive in body, mind and spirit. In Christ the last barrier between humanity and God has been broken. The place of the dead is no longer the end of our relationship and life with God. Even though we die, yet shall we live; and the life we shall live will be one that encompasses us as fully human – body, mind and soul. The mystery of all this may be beyond our imagining but we can imagine it because those who witnessed it have given us their testimony as an assurance that these things happened. Unbelievable – for sure! Unimaginable – no doubt! Possible – definitely! One translation of the Scriptures puts it this way: Trusting is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about things we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 – The Complete Jewish Bible, tr. by David H. Stern). AMEN
Bible Text: Philippians 3:4b-14 and John 12:1-8 | Preacher: Reverend Bruce W. Kemp Demystifying the Church There is a new reality in the life of the church today. We are finding people coming to be part of our community for whom there is little or no history with the church in a formal way. Unlike the people of my generation – and generations before that – there are many things that we take for granted that may seem strange or curious to newcomers. The very simple thing of how we worship can be a mystery. Why do we have a call to worship when we are already gathered in the place where worship is held? Why do we have a prayer of adoration followed by a prayer of confession? Why do we have a psalm as our responsive reading? And why do we have long sermons? The form that our worship takes is based on a formula created thousands of years ago and finds its origins in the Sabbath worship of the synagogues. It was given further shape by the Reformers of the 15th century. And as much as we have made attempts to change the formula, we tend to stick to the pattern. Of course the pattern at its very basic is important for it helps us as a people to focus our thoughts and open our spirits to the presence and mind of God. The call to worship is meant to draw us from the conversations with one another as individuals to focus us on the time we are going to spend as a body of believers in worship. We then focus on seeking for the presence of God to be with us by a prayer that reminds us of our relationship to God – how we are blessed by God and how we are ever in need of the grace, love and forgiveness of God. We remind ourselves that we are not perfect but that the reason we confess our sins – both individual and corporate – is so that we can once again be reminded that God forgives us and ever seeks to help us in our lives. In what has come to be the modern era of the church, sermons have remained with us in the Protestant tradition. The purpose is to be a vehicle for teaching the lessons of Scripture and encouraging us in our discipleship to God in Jesus Christ. The receiving of an offering is meant to remind us that we have a responsibility as the people of God to not only maintain a place where we can gather as a community for worship, fellowship, study and service but that we also hold a responsibility to reach out to the community and the world around us. Offerings are given in response to needs but also as a means of showing our gratitude for the love of God in our lives. Music is – for many people – one of the best parts of worship. Even for those who do not believe themselves to be musical or good singers, music helps to lift our spirits and causes us to ponder truths of the faith. But while these are the elements of a worship service, the actual expression of these elements varies from community to community. That is because the time of worship that a community celebrates needs to be responsive to and meaningful for the community as a whole. And so as Presbyterians we have books with service orders, but there is no one way prescribed for Presbyterians to worship. But how are decisions made about what happens in our worship? In some churches there are committees; in others it is the minister and choir director; but however it happens, the people in the whole community need to be involved for it does no one any real good to worship in a vacuum. Suggestions for what to sing; suggestions for messages; suggestions for prayers; suggestions for services on special themes; in all of these it is important for the community at large to be involved. After all, this is to be the community’s time to worship, study, and pray. And so I encourage each of you to make suggestions that those in leadership may be more responsive to the needs you find in your lives. One of the other curiosities of the modern church today is that many people who are coming to our churches are puzzled by the whole issue of church membership. I have been in church communities from an early age and in the Presbyterian denomination for most of that time. The movement toward membership in the Church was seen as a natural progression in our commitment. We would progress through Sunday school, Youth Bible Class and then to classes with the minister. We would then be received as communicant members in the Church. You see, back then you couldn’t participate in communion unless you had made declared yourself to be a communicant member of the church. Back then we used to fence the table. Anyone who had not formally declared their faith in God before the whole congregation was not permitted to participate in the sacrament. You were also not allowed to have your children baptized. The belief was that you needed to publicly acknowledge your faith and declare yourself as a member of the covenant of believers. Such a declaration entitled you to be elected as a ruling elder in the church – if you were so called to be one – and it entitled you to vote in the calling of a minister to the church. In fact all positions of leadership within the congregation required you to be a professing or communicant member. Today we no longer fence the table. Children are welcome to participate in the communion. No longer is it seen as a rite of passage but rather a rite of the community as a whole. And since the baptism of a child is the sign and seal of the child’s reception as a member of the community, it seems inappropriate to deny that child any experience of the community’s life as a whole. But if we no longer fence the table; if we no longer have special rules around communion; if baptism is the sign of our reception into the community of faith and the church and marks us as God’s people; then what of church membership? Church membership becomes more than just graduating out of Sunday school or becoming an adult. Church membership needs to become more than just being a card-carrying believer, more than just a means of getting a voting card. Church membership needs to really be focused on discipleship. Church membership needs to be a vow that we make to be supportive of one another in our community of faith; it needs to be a sign that we will do everything we can to encourage and help one another; it needs to be a sign that we will dedicate ourselves financially and physically to the work, worship and service of this community or any community in which we find ourselves. Joining the church made real sense in the days gone by. Back then you never really were a part of the church until you made that public covenant. Nowadays we welcome people within the church and encourage them to be part of all we do without asking for their membership card. Perhaps we should be thinking in terms of reaffirming our faith. When we come to a community of faith and find that it is a place we want to be part of, we can approach the leaders and say to them: We want to reaffirm our faith in God and declare to all of you in a public way that we believe in God and that we commit ourselves to being an active part of this community of faith. Perhaps this will make more sense to people of this day and age and perhaps this will encourage more people to see church membership and life as a celebration of faith and life!
Bible Text: Luke 13:1-9 | Preacher: Reverend Bruce Kemp, Reverend Bruce W. Kemp The Significance of Three – Luke 13:1-9 Oftentimes we may believe that numbers in the Bible and in other parts of our life are a random thing. We may take the numbers of things as purely coincidental and attach no real meaning to them. But numbers are not as random as we might think. From the beginning of time, numbers have played a significant role. Whether we interpret the creation of the world in 6 days with the seventh as a day of rest in the strictest of terms or whether we understand it to represent major geological periods in which we humans have appeared in the latter stages as determined by science, it is clear that the number 7 has become for us as a sign from God that we are to take one day every 7 as a time for reflection and renewal, for rest from our daily work. From time immemorial, our calendars have revolved on a 7 day pattern. For the Jewish people it is celebrated as a Sabbath rest on Saturday; we take Sunday as our Sabbath rest believing that the Day of Resurrection is to be the day. And so we order our lives engaging in our daily round of work and/or school for 5 days in our time with a day of recreation and a day for worship and renewal. Of course in our modern age, there are many people for whom Sunday is a difficult day to take. But whether we can take the whole day and join with other believers to celebrate and worship, we are reminded to take a day of rest. It is not always clearly stated that Jesus time in prayer apart from the disciples was always on a Sabbath. But he regularly took time for reflection and strengthening of mind, body and spirit. And so 7 is one of the four perfect numbers as we find them in Scripture. It marks spiritual perfection for as we go through the steps of our life, we find we are completing a circle. That circle helps to centre us and we are blessed with the presence of God wherever we go and whatever we do. The other numbers are 10 which marks ordinal perfection, 12 which marks a perfection in rule and the number which we will focus on today – 3 which marks divine perfection. Interestingly enough, the number 3 occurs 467 times in the Bible. Some of the more significant occurrences in the Old Testament can be seen in the number of the patriarchs of the people before the Exodus: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – who was later to be known as Israel. There are 39 books comprising the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Coincidence or intention!! Some other interesting facts about the number 3: Jesus faces three temptations; three disciples witness the transfiguration in which 3 significant deliverers of the people appear; Jesus ministry covers a period of 3 years; Peter denies Christ 3 times and in the Gospel of John he reaffirms his faith 3 times; he prays 3 times in the Garden of Gethsemane that he may not have to drink the cup; Jesus is placed on the cross at the 3rd hour of the day and dies at the 9th hour; during that time there were 3 hours of darkness that covered the land from the 6th to the 9th hour; Jesus rose from the dead after 3 days; Jesus enfolds within him the ancient role of prophet, the role of priest and the role of king – for Jesus is to be seen as the lord of our minds, bodies and spirits. The people of God in the Old Testament celebrated 3 great periods in the year: Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread in the Spring; Pentecost in the Summer; Feast of Trumpets, Atonement and Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall. We celebrate Advent, Christmas and Epiphany; Lent and Easter; and Pentecost. Perhaps that seems like 7 but whether we count them as 3 major or seven minor, it remains that we celebrate divine and spiritual perfection in the circle of our years. In our communion services we say together: Holy, Holy, Holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. Three times I repeat the phrase Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Yet none of these things is by accident – there is intention in all of these actions and words. Even the very intentional signing of the cross which is practised by many Christian communities is a triad. The first is an acknowledgment of God as the Father, the second is an acknowledgment of God as the Son, and the third is an acknowledgment of God as the Spirit. By it we are reminded that our creation, our redemption and our sustained life in this place are all under the eye and hand of God. By it we remember and bring to our minds what is most real, most essential, most substantial and most complete. And so in thought, word and action we find the sum of our humanity and our relationship to God and one another. And while all that is well and good, what does this tell us of the three years of the poor fig tree in Jesus’ parable as recorded in Luke. Interestingly enough, it is believed that patience is needed for a fig to grow to maturity and produce fruit. In fact that is the case for many of our fruit trees. And so for three years the vinedresser has been tending the fig tree, nurturing it and waiting patiently for it to bear fruit. But the owner has grown impatient. He expected instant results. He expected that the tree should show itself useful and productive or the space be surrendered to something that would bear fruit. The vinedresser asks for one more year – a fourth year. During that time, the vinedresser will add manure, dig around the roots to allow more nutrients to penetrate the soil in the hope that the tree will bear fruit. Years ago I was a spiritual leader on a weekend retreat called Cursillo. Cursillo was simply a Spanish word for short course. People would spend three days in prayer, study and group reflection in an intentional review of the Christian message but in such a way as to draw together all the parts and enable people to see the full picture. But no great fruit was expected during those three days. They were a time for challenge and reflection. The fourth day became the moment of decision. That was the day when you returned to the family, the place from which you had come. And just as the vinedresser was patient with the fig tree for three years, we would be patient for 3 days with those who had committed themselves to this time of study. On the fourth day, we heard their commitments; we heard what the three days had meant to them; how they had been touched by God and had grown in their faith. But for those who experienced that time, there was no fifth day or sixth day or seventh day for every day became a fourth day. They had come to understand that the three days of their study and retreat were for them the foundation upon which every day they would live thereafter would flow from. And so the number three holds great significance but a number that does not even factor greatly in the history of the Bible is significant in its own way for it is with the presence, the nurture, the love of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit that we can live and continue to live our fourth day. Remember that the disciples of Jesus only began to truly understand and live their faith in God as revealed in Jesus Christ on the day after the resurrection – on their fourth day. So let us take this time in Lent to reflect on the mystery of the Trinity and give thanks that as the fig tree was given a fourth year to bear fruit we may bear fruit for God as we live our fourth days in this the time God has given to us!
Bible Text: Hebrews 9:24-28 and Mark 12:38-44 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp, Reverend Bruce W. Kemp OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE This is a day that in our churches we set aside as a time of remembrance. It is a tradition that has been maintained for close to 100 years. It is a tradition that saw its beginnings with the end of a war that came to be known as World War 1. Of all the conflicts known to the modern era of history, this was the first war that effectively engulfed the whole world. And while it essentially was fought in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, it changed the landscape of the world. Unfortunately, it did not satisfy all conflict and there have been many wars to follow it. But for large parts of our world today, war is something we read about on our computers and perhaps see images of but have little personal contact. For others – even in our community – war in our present day is something which continues to be very real. And while they may not personally live in the midst of that conflict, they deal with the pain and suffering of those who have chosen to be part of the solution to conflicts in various parts of the world. Often I was asked why a man of the cloth would even consider being a chaplain in the armed forces. For many people it seemed like a contradiction. In their minds, they had images of the chaplain blessing guns and condoning death and destruction; but the reality is far from that. The reality is that the chaplains are there to provide spiritual comfort and counselling to men and women who are asked to face situations that we can never imagine and help them to make sense of the crazy world in which they find themselves. And while as chaplains, we are not allowed to use weapons, we would find ourselves exposed to many of the situations that those who are armed face and may even face many of the same dangers. And so we have taken time this morning to remember not only the sacrifice of those who died in the major conflicts of the past century as well as the conflicts of this century, but to remember all those who came home and have had to live with the memory of what happened to them and to their comrades. We remember the families of those who served and are serving. We remember the civilians caught in the places of conflict, those who have died and those who have lived. As a nation and as a people our responsibility to those who served cannot end when they come home. All of us carry baggage from our lives; our experiences shape who we are and who we become. For those who experience severe traumatic experiences, the baggage can be more oppressive. And just as we know that emotional, mental and physical baggage cannot be just dropped like a sack of potatoes, so for those who served the baggage often hangs on. In our lives as Christians, we carry not only emotional, mental and physical baggage, we also carry spiritual baggage. The interactions that we have as a community of faith bring to us challenges that touch mind, body, heart and spirit. And we can carry that baggage with us from place to place. For many of us we will spend a lifetime trying to find a place to deal with the baggage that we have picked up. One of the struggles we have is finding an appropriate place to unpack that baggage. Nobody likes the experience of opening their suitcase at the airport to repack. Our life is exposed to the world. True enough, most of us will find the same items in all our bags but we may have something different or special, something that we have kept hidden in our bag, something that maybe even those closest to us now have no idea. Unpacking our baggage in a safe place with people we trust is something for which we all hope. What I am speaking about is finding a place and/or a person with whom we can unpack that baggage and begin to lighten our load. When we come to a place of worship, we may have an expectation that we can open our spiritual baggage. We may believe in our heart and mind that this is a place where we can lighten our load and find that peace of spirit that we seek. We may believe that we will be able to find forgiveness and healing for the hurts that we carry. I put it that way because too often our expectations are not reflected in the reality of what we find. In my first congregation there was a lady who was faithful to worship but never attended communion. When I asked her why, she replied that she was not worthy to come to the table because she was not perfect in her life. Often we judge ourselves or others harshly for the sin in our life. We struggle to be perfect but realize all too often that perfection is beyond us. For some this realization ends in despair as they come to believe that they are beyond redemption and that they will ever be known by their sins. The author of the letter to the Hebrews knew all too well the struggles of the people to whom his letter was written. He knew that they were not perfect people and that their struggle to be perfect – as so often they believed they need to be – would lead many of them to despair of any future with God. They feared that God would only love them if they were so perfectly following the lead of Christ. And often we have brought that kind of perfection into our communities. Its effect is often to cause many to turn away from God believing that only when they are perfect will God receive them. If that’s the case, I should never feel the hand of God or the voice of God or the Spirit of God in my life. The author to the Hebrews wants us to reflect on the reality of our lives. We will sin, we will carry baggage but we do not need to despair of our sin or be afraid to reveal our baggage. In Christ God has become the mediator between Him and us. The death of God in Christ was to give us freedom from our sins and hope that we will not be afraid to reveal our baggage to Him and to one another. For many the second coming of Christ is seen as judgment but it is a judgment that people will place on themselves. Our sins have been paid for – not only the sins of those alive in the time of the incarnation but the sins of all those who have come into this world since and who will come into this world until the end of God’s time. The second coming of Christ is to receive those who have committed themselves in this life to loving God and striving to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so as we remember this day the human sacrifice of life made by those who died and those who survived that we might live in freedom, let us not forget that sacrifice of God in Christ who not only died for us but lives that He may come again to receive us not in judgment but in love. AMEN
Bible Text: Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 & Mark 10:2-16 | Preacher: Reverend Bruce W. Kemp Over the last number of centuries we have grown accustomed to meeting in buildings constructed to the glory of God. These buildings have been designed to reflect the symbols of our faith and to draw our attention to the heavens. And while the shape of these buildings vary from rectangular to round, they are often filled with intricate woodwork and stained glass windows designed to focus our minds on the life of Christ and to remind us of the sacrifice made on our behalf. In fact the buildings are designed to encourage us to see the space as holy space. Any church building – from the simplest country church to the most ornate cathedral – any one of them can evoke a sense of the divine to the person who truly seeks to find God. Moreover our buildings are filled with structures to highlight the specific rites and practices that mark our faith. The baptismal font is ever present in most churches. In some it takes a place of especial prominence. Its place reminds the believers of that moment when they decided to dedicate their lives to God. If their baptism was as infants, the font would remind them of the faith which they had known all their lives and which they had affirmed when they made their formal declaration and commitment. The communion table for us takes a central place in our buildings. It is a simple table designed to remind us of that first last supper that Jesus shared with those first disciples. And while others have chosen to place altars as a sign of the sacrifice of God in Jesus Christ, we have chosen to focus on the communal sharing of a meal. Our table is simple for it is not the table itself that makes the sacrament so special or the elements that are placed upon it for our consumption but rather it is the presence of the One who calls us to come to this table and it is the remembrance of what the elements symbolize. Remember that that first table in that upper room held no magic. It was not made of special wood or endowed with a special blessing. It was a table. What made it special was what was put upon it and even then it was the meaning with which those elements were imbued. Another structure that is prominent in most of our churches is the pulpit. Often larger churches will have both a pulpit and a lectern. The lectern is the place from which the Scriptures will be read. In many communities, the Gospel reading will be read with the congregation standing. The reading of the Word of God has ever been with us. The Jewish synagogues always included the reading of the Word of God and we continue that practice today. Many of us use the Revised Common Lectionary to guide our year. The lectionary encourages us to explore all the parts of the Bible and to ever remain acquainted with the history of the people of God and to be reminded of the struggles they went through as they sought to live their lives with God. The reading of the Word of God can be powerful in and of itself. When we ask God to open our minds and hearts to the words contained in the Scriptures, we are seeking to learn the lessons of life that God desires us to know and discover how we can make them an active part of our daily life. I would encourage all readers in worship to not feel that you need to rush through the readings. Take the time to enjoy it. It will aid all of us in hearing the words and pondering them in our hearts and minds. For many of our churches, it seems strange perhaps that the pulpit is higher than the communion table. There are many good reasons for this. Primary of course was the need for the preacher to be seen and heard by all who were in attendance. Modern day microphones have largely eliminated that need. But there also was the sense that the Word of God was critical to the faith of the people. The preaching on the Word of God has been and continues to be a vital part of our worship experience. Even more so, it was the major part of the worship experience when the singing of hymns was not as prevalent as it is today. Today our worship experience is rich with song and special music. Perhaps there are some who feel that the minister needs to talk for at least 15 minutes to make the time here worthwhile but it should be all the elements of the worship experience combining to provide us - as a community – with the strength and encouragement to go out from here to live our lives as the people of God and to seek to be servants by responding to the needs we find around us. And so we are surrounded here in this place with a space that has been dedicated to the glory of God and filled with symbols that remind us of our relationship to our God. But is this what is meant by our life in the house of God? The house of God is an ancient term used by the people of God for centuries. It was a way for people to be able to relate to God. After all, they had houses, so it only made sense that God would have a house. But they also knew that their houses were mobile. Remember that the first people to come to know God in the time of Abraham were wanderers taking their sheep and goats wherever they could find water and grass. They gave no thought to a permanent dwelling place. And so for them the house of God was not in one fixed place. The house of God was wherever they were for they knew that God was with them always. When the first temple was constructed, that was the first time that the people came to believe that there was one house in which God dwelt. Of course, this caused great distress to the people when the exile occurred because they felt that God would not be able to find them because He was in His house in Jerusalem. Yet they came to understand that while God may be in the temple, He was also with them in their exile. Perhaps we too have come to believe that God can only be found in the places we have constructed. Perhaps we have come to believe that our life in the house of God is within these walls. But the reality is that our life in the house of God is far larger than this place. For the house of God is the heavens, it is the universe, it is the creation that we see and the creation we cannot even glimpse. Our life in the house of God is the life we live day by day. And wherever we walk, whatever we are doing, whomever we encounter, we are ever in the house of God!
Bible Text: James 3:13-4:3 AND Mark 9:30 - 37 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp, Reverend Bruce W. Kemp HOW TO BE A GREAT PERSON One of the greatest struggles we have as people and as people of the Word is how to live a life that honours God but also soothes our ego. Everyone seeks to be recognized and acknowledged for their contributions to the life of the community here in this place as well as in our homes, our places of employment, our social clubs and with our friends. Being recognized and acknowledged as having value and worth is critical to our well-being. But too often we either boldly assert ourselves over others so that our value will be acknowledged or we retreat in abject humility to a place where any value or worth we may contribute to the community becomes muted or even ignored. Becoming a great person, though, is neither about being so humble as to never allow us to feel any pride in our abilities or talents nor is it about being so bold as to believe that we possess talents and abilities unrivalled anywhere in the world. Becoming a great person is about finding our place within the community and allowing others to encourage us as we encourage them to share our lives together. God seeks for us to find fulfilment in life but not at the expense of another person. When Jesus speaks to the disciples and tells them to be first you must be last, he is reminding them that the greatest among them will be the one who is willing to recognize and acknowledge the value and worth of those around them. The world in which we live encourages us to be bold in our dealings with one another. We are encouraged to look out for ourselves, to grab the bull by the horns, to be aggressively assertive, and to promote ourselves. Certainly there is nothing wrong with sharing with one another our vision for the life of our community and how we may be able to make contributions but we are to be conscious of how our thoughts, words and actions may impact the life of someone in the community who is not as sure of themselves or who feel that they have less to contribute. And who does Jesus look to when he is seeking for an example of how the disciples can start on the path to greatness? He points to a child. He then takes the child and places the child in the midst of them and then takes the child into his arms. The child probably has the least ability to make a difference in the world at that moment but for Jesus this child represents the very heart of greatness. To have the ability to see, acknowledge, accept and love a child whose life is just beginning opens us up to see, acknowledge, accept and love those whose lives have been lived and influenced in ways that will bring challenges to us. If we cannot take time for them, we probably will not be willing to take time for others. If we think ourselves too good or too important or too great to bother with a child, chances are we will think ourselves too good, important or great to bother with anyone else whom we may feel are beneath us. It is a fact of our human existence and dilemma that even though we will acknowledge our God and the physical presence of God in Jesus Christ as the greatest person among us, we will still seek to know who comes second, third, fourth and so on. Somehow we need that pecking order. In the letter that the apostle James wrote, we find that Jesus’ words concerning greatness are still a struggle for the people. It seems that everyone in the community wants to be seen as the most important. People were seeking to become teachers in the community but without the necessary skill and aptitude. People were boasting of their faith in God but not showing it in practical ways. In a real sense, people had lost the heart of wisdom. Wisdom is not just a matter of knowledge. People can have great knowledge but lack wisdom. Wisdom is about knowing how to apply knowledge in such a way as to truly encourage and teach others the lessons of life as God has given them. How often we want to share our knowledge or experience. We want others to know how knowledgeable we are. We fear someone else might be seen as having more knowledge or a greater experience than ourselves and we will not be valued. But remember the wisdom of Solomon who knew so well that a wise person often says little while a fool will run on at the mouth. Someone once said that he didn’t like silence. He said it was like death but silence is fuller of meaning than we may imagine. In silence we can observe movement, we can hear breathing, and we can feel our heart. But silence scares us. It scares us because we are so surrounded by the sound of traffic and commerce that the idea of being silent is to us a void. It seems to be an empty place that we need to fill but in truth that so-called empty place is fuller than anything we may imagine. It is a place where God can be heard, where he can be felt and where we can touch and be touched. In this passage, James does not tackle all the issues that cause us to struggle with what it means to be great people of God but he does touch on a number of them. He begins by cautioning us against a wisdom that encourages bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. Such wisdom brings disorder to our community life as a Christian congregation and disorder to our life in general. When we become jealous of the abilities or talents of others, we can find ourselves seeking for ways to derail them and promote ourselves instead. We can find ourselves working to bring division within the community and so disrupt its life and peace. He then points to the wars and fights that he sees. He knows too well that the jealousies we feel come from our desire to have something we can’t or to be someone we cannot be. He recognizes that we all struggle with finding our place in the community and recognizing the gifts and talents and abilities of one another. When such things become all-consuming, the community is in grave danger of dissolution. Even more, he would say, we are at risk of losing the vision and goal of our faith and life and descending into an abyss of self-promotion and aggrandizement. To counteract this tendency within us, he encourages us to seek for the real wisdom of God. He tells us that such wisdom is pure, that is, it is untainted by the jealousies that afflict us for it seeks to honour the life of all. Further he adds that such a wisdom is peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. The true wisdom of God that we are to seek for and practice in our life will not desire to cause war and strife but will desire to find peace for mind, body and spirit. It will desire to gently instruct and persuade rather than be heavy-handed. It will be open to reason for it will be willing to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others and see whether there is any truth and any good in what is being suggested. The ideas and thoughts of others will not be summarily dismissed. The true wisdom of God will be full of mercy for it will not seek to condemn but to inform and teach and it will be a wisdom that will not be seen as temporary or fleeting nor will it be easily shaken. It will be a wisdom that can be trusted. We can be certain of what we believe and express it in a firm yet gentle way. We can be sincere in what we believe and yet reveal that we are open to listen. We can be great people without being dominating or domineering. After all, no one of us is perfect. Every one of us will make mistakes. How we deal with our mistakes and the mistakes of others will reveal whether our wisdom is of God or of man. Remember the words of Paul in speaking of Jesus. He reminded the people in Philippi that Jesus was above every other creature in creation. In other words, he is the greatest person to ever walk on the earth yet he did not celebrate his greatness by lording it over others. Instead he emptied himself of all vanity and self. He put himself in the position of one who serves, of the lowest in the pecking order. His greatness came not from people looking to him to worship him but from him looking at people with compassion and mercy. Who among us will be remembered as the greatest? Perhaps we will never find the answer. Perhaps we should never seek to be that person but each of us can be a great person by striving to encourage, uplift and forgive others, by recognizing the heart and life of others in the community and by bringing peace and sincerity to others through words and actions.