Bible Text: Revelation 21:10 and Revelation 21: 22 to 22:5' and John 5:1-9 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp The two passages of Scripture for today are both from the hand of the disciple known as the beloved disciple – John. In his Gospel, we have a picture of human suffering that is relieved by the intervention of Jesus and in his Revelation we have a vivid image of a time in the future when all suffering will be past and the only water available will bring healing to all the nations. The pool of Bethzatha was long believed to be a fictitious place invented by John to tell a story of a miraculous healing by Jesus but archaeological work in the 19th century revealed that not only did it exist but that indeed it was recognized by more than the Jewish people as a place of healing. It is located in what today is the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem in the northern part of the city. At the time that the pool was established it was in a new part of the city and so the area came to be known as Bethzatha. The pool was seen as a place of grace and mercy for those who felt the shame and disgrace of the various disabilities and illnesses that brought them there. It is clear from the text that many miracles of healing had taken place at this pool. It is also clear that the movement of the water which preceded any healing was not a regular or frequent event and that only the first one to enter the water received a healing. People would come each day expectantly hoping to be the one that the waters would heal. It also appears that people other than those seeking physical healing visited the pool and it is clear that this was not the first time that Jesus had come to this place. I find it interesting that the lame, blind and paralyzed would visit the pool even on a Sabbath. Obviously they did not believe that God could heal only on 6 days of the week; they were expectant of a miracle regardless of the day. On this particular day when Jesus comes, he sees a man whom he has seen before. We are aware that he has great difficulty moving and that obviously it has taken great effort for him to get there. We are also aware that he has come on his own and has no friends who will stay with him and watch for the movement of the water. The question Jesus asks sounds harsh in a way. Does the man come faithfully to the pool with no expectation of healing? The answer is no. He desperately wants to be healed but his disability makes it impossible for him to get to the water before another; and yet he never loses hope. He consistently and faithfully comes. Jesus has compassion for him and heals him. The man has never given up hope. He has remained optimistic that he will be healed in spite of the challenges he faces. Jesus sees his optimism and hope and gives him the gift he seeks. The man takes up his pallet and walks. The waters of the pool haven’t moved but the living water of Jesus has flowed into the man and he is made well. In his vision of the future Jerusalem, John sees a river that is the water of life. He describes the water as bright and clear as crystal. One can imagine the water glistening and shimmering in the light. There is a clarity to the water that one could never imagine in this world. This living water flows not from an underground spring of undetermined origin but comes directly from the throne of God. This river runs through the middle of the main street of the city and its water brings life to the tree of life. The living water from the throne of God nourishes the tree of life and enables it to bear the fruit appropriate to each season. It is unclear whether there is one tree of life or many trees of life. I have always pictured a boulevard with a river running through its middle. The boulevard is lined on both sides with the trees of life and they are filled with fruit to nourish the bodies of those who have come to dwell in that place. But there is not just one kind of fruit; there is variety – 12 different kinds of fruit. It is a fruit of the month club but not one that you would ever tire of for the fruit brings not just nourishment of body and mind but also brings peace to the spirit. And the trees are not just for nourishment. They are also for the healing of the nations. The leaves themselves possess qualities that will heal the peoples of all nations. John is given a vision of a time when all the nations of the world will find what they need to heal themselves in mind, body and spirit. Perhaps we believe that we are living in a troubled time filled with an uncertain future; John lived in a world that was troubled as well. In fact no generation has truly lived in a world without trouble. We will ever struggle in this world to find total peace until that day when Jesus comes again and ushers in that new heaven and new earth. But while this is our future we can still strive for peace in the present. We may not be able to eradicate hatred or war or prejudice or suffering from our lives but we can do what we can to relieve it. We can make the decision to make a difference where we are. And so the light of God can shine in the world even be it dimly if we let that light shine through us!
Bible Text: Philippians 1:3-11, Matthew 5: 13-16, Exodus 3: 1-12a | Preacher: Speaker: Phyllis McMaster Our scripture from Philippians 1 is a wonderful reference for our theme today – Learning and Reaching Out Together in Love. Philippians is written while Paul is in prison. He is being persecuted for his beliefs as a Christian. Paul’s faith is real even though he lives in troubled times. These letters express the challenges and heartache of being a Christian but the lst letter if full of hope even as he writes from prison. We can imagine the early church community of Philippi gathering together in the market square to hear a letter from their leader Paul. He has journeyed with them since their formation. They remember his teachings and encouragement. They are eager and excited to hear his words, just like the anticipation we feel in opening a card or an email from a friend. The beginnings of Paul’s letters in Scripture are beautiful. His opening words are full of promise, hope and thanksgiving as he reflects on the gifts and strengths of his community of faith. He opens his letter with prayer giving God thanks for the people in the community and their faith as they help in spreading the Good News and Christ’s light to the world. Chapter 1 contains the longest greeting recorded in Scripture. Paul’s words reflect a wonderful relationship he had with these people. He points to the challenges ahead. He encourages them to ready and faithful during the crucial time to come. He advises them to let their life overflow with love for others. Mission is all about reaching out to difficult situations and places. As Living Faith tells us “Mission is service, a call to help people in need and to permeate all of life with the compassion of God. When we reach out, we share the Good news of Christ. We share God’s love by our actions and our words. Reaching out begins with love. It begins with the strength we find in learning and serving together. As Paul whispers from prison, he prays that the Philippians will overflow in their love for God. He writes “May your love overflows more and more with knowledge and =insight and help you determine what is best. For us we need to love before we know can help and we need to serve others to help with decisions we make. When we are willing to reach out in love, we will find ourselves in places and meeting people we never expected. By God’s grace we step in a whole new world. Rev Scholey who created this Mission Awareness Sunday Worship talks about the worlds that she has stepped into. She recounts her time in the world of disability and rehabilitation when her father became a quadriplegic; She talks about the world of multiple children when she and her husband became parents to triplets She shares her experiences in the world of relief and development through her work with PWSD. In all cases she points out there are things she did not know about these worlds and wondered why she was so out of touch. But in each experience she tells us you learn so much and your life is forever changed by the experiences you incur in the midst of the world. ‘Every one of us is enabled by God to step into worlds that we never expected to enter. We can enter the worlds of a new career, of parenthood, relationships, worlds of grief or illness, worlds of leadership, mission and service. Each time we step into one of these worlds as a person of faith, we seek to figure out why we were called to do this as our eyes are opened to new things. When our compassion and love grows, we gain knowledge and insight in how we can help by developing new relationships and partnership with people and new ways to reach out. Like Paul who drew strength knowing others were praying for him while he was in prison we can draw and be lifted up by the prayers and the strength of others who help us in time of need, crisis or grief. When we travel or support projects through PWSD, WMS or PS we learn that people are grateful to Canadians who are praying for them and caring enough to help them. Mission is more than a transfer of money. It is asking what people need and how they draw on the strength of our prayers and our support. We also draw strength from knowing them and hearing their stories. We can be blessed by knowing their determination, their faith and their willingness to reach out and make things better for their communities. Examples Laura used were her work with Farmers in Guatemala who taught each other to use new farming practice or a volunteer home based care workers as they cared for people with Aids and HIV in their own community. Relationships are also built in local mission and outreach. In love for our community, we share time and resources and figure out how to meet needs. I can think of some things our Church has done that show our love for others – our support for our local food bank and the SnowSuit Fund; our local hospital. Supporting and Encouraging our Presbytery as they plan to bring a Syrian Refugee family to this community; our support to special PS projects such as Haiti and supporting business opportunities for women in Malawi. One Mission Project that I will always remember is Cans for CanHave, where our extra coin and pennies helped support a project of Rev MCPhee in Uganda. Our church raised over $3000 for CanHave. The needs of our communities and the world can be overwhelming. We may not feel that we have enough resources, energy or know how to reach out in Mission. But we have been called by God to love others and play a role. By working together in Mission we can do work locally and globally by learning from one another and as Paul suggests we can overflow with compassion. As we work in Mission we seek to bring the Good News Christ spoke about --where the last are first and there is abundant life for all. We let God’s light shine through us and we see people around us near and far , similar and different as God’s beloved children, As Christians we are called in his name to pray, help, hope and have faith. Paul challenged the Philippians and all of us to continue our food work and to grow in love. He wrote; “the God who began the good work in you will bring it to completion in Christ. With the eyes of faith it is possible. Paul is confident in God’s activity among the Philippians and in the early church long ago. His words speak to us today. Last week I was listening to Ideas on CBC radio. Adrienne Clarkson was talking about the discovery of the heart and how it people and not government or policies that make a good society. She said that God is not an old man with a beard in the sky. God is love and whoever lives in love, lives in God and God lives in them. Love comes from the Greek word agapay and we need to live in a world filled with justice, equality, forgiveness, compassion. We need to think of love as a paradise around the corner. We need to experience all what life gives us in absolute joy and she closed her presentation that she hoped that was your life’s experience. How many are watching the Stanley Cup Playoff’s. Yesterday in the Ottawa Citizen there was a story about the Pittsburgh Penguins goal tender Matt Murray. In his first interview he told reporters his NHL idol was Alex Ault, a retired journeyman goal tender in the NHL. As a kid growing up in Thunder Bay there were 4 teams with two goaltenders each. Hockey was an expensive sport and especially for goaltenders and with all teams being travelling teams it was even more expensive for families. When Matt was 13 Ault purchased each of the 8 goaltenders of the time their equipment and he was one of them. When Ault found out, he said it was really cool to see someone you did something nice for while growing up be appreciative of it and take and turn it into a pro career. This is what mission is all about == doing something for someone else and not expecting anything in return for your good works. Live out you many callings to love and work and serve. How can we a God’s people, as a church, as an organization or as an individual overflow in love and reach out in mission. The God that started the God work in you will finish what He started. Do one thing for a Better World Tolerance How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these. Tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself. Equality Martin Luther King Jr. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood. Freedom Freedom--no word was ever spoken that has held out greater hope, demanded greater sacrifice, needed more to be nurtured, blessed more the giver. . . or came closer to being God's will on earth. Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought. Pope John Paul II Humanity Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open new places in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity. Malala: "I want my child to walk in a world guided by love. This means that everybody will have a job, or the resources to take care of basic needs. A world where families are not oppressed and are connected to their neighbors and their communities, where the best in humanity is honored. That's when we will truly be at peace." Justice Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all. Finally, let understand that when we stand together, we will always win. When men and women stand together for justice, we win. When black, white and Hispanic people stand together for justice, we win. Bernie Sanders Summary with Gwen’s Picture: Learning and Reaching out in love Jesus is our Friend Companion for All time Giver of Joy Unending forgiveness Unconditional love Compassionate Infinite patience Faithful trustworthy Let us pray Live out you many callings to love and work and serve. How can we a God’s people, as a church, as an organization or as an individual overflow in love and reach out in mission. The God that started the God work in you will finish what He started. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Bible Text: John 10:22-30 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Do you hear what I hear? I am sure that that is not what you expected in a sermon title for this time of year. In fact it probably puts you more in mind of Christmas and the image of a little drummer boy standing by a manger. But Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees in today’s gospel got me thinking about why some people hear the voice of God calling them like a shepherd calls the sheep and why others seem to not recognize his voice. Recently I have heard a number of programs on faith that have asked whether or not some people are more predisposed to an experience of the divine. It is an interesting question to ponder as it may help to explain why some people are drawn to an active relationship with God while others want to deny the existence of God altogether. Now I can’t give you a definitive answer on that question but I certainly recognize that the encounters people have with religion and faith seem to have a profound influence on whether or not they choose to have any relationship with God be it inside or outside of an established faith community. As we ponder how people come to even hear the words of Jesus today, we need to remember that the people who heard Jesus speak in the days of his physical ministry on earth were hearing words from the God that had been the God of their parents, grandparents and all the generations as far back as Abraham in recent history. In the person of Jesus, they were hearing again - as if for the first time – words from the lips of Jesus that they found were restoring to them hope and trust. They were beginning to feel once again that the God in whom they had been raised to put their faith was not a God concerned with their material sacrifices for sin as much as he was concerned with the state of them as people – spiritually, mentally and physically. Material sacrifices were certainly welcomed but these needed to be in thankful response to a God from whom the people could feel love and compassion, grace and forgiveness. Through the teaching of Jesus, the people were hearing words which they felt they could truly live by; they were hearing commandments that were not surrounded by the words of lawyers and philosophers and theologians but words that simply made sense. They began to feel hope. Once again they felt unburdened spiritually, mentally and no doubt physically. And this Shepherd whom they were getting to know better each day was one who did not live in a palace or eat food that they could never imagine or travel in circles that were beyond their social class; this was a Shepherd who was not afraid to get close to them or to touch them; this was a Shepherd who spoke as one who was motivated by a desire to be with the people and truly take care of them. This was not a shepherd who was hired to perform a task but one who was the true guardian of the sheep. In another passage John speaks of this relationship by reminding his readers that the hired hand cares not what happens to the sheep when trouble comes but that the Good Shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep. When they hear his voice, they will find comfort, hope and peace. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day and those who had come before them had become so concerned with ensuring that the people did everything right in God’s eyes that they left little room for the grace and mercy of God. The bald and straightforward teaching of Jesus with its focus on mercy and grace and forgiveness troubled the Pharisees as they sought to reconcile such teachings with maintaining the glory and righteousness of God. There seemed to be a fear that the people were being encouraged by Jesus to enter into a very personal relationship with God in which every person could hear the voice of God and feel the touch of God. There was a fear that this would lead to a situation where the holiness of God would be diminished and even lead to the end of their authority over the people. It is interesting how throughout history and even today people feel the need to defend the honour of God. Too often the stands we take against those who mock God or defame what we consider to be holy leads to a violence that does not support the truth about our faith. We would be far better off walking the path God seeks us to follow and living the life God revealed through Jesus. But let us go back to this issue of hearing the voice of God. The people in the time of Jesus who heard his voice and responded were people for whom the words of Jesus resonated in their hearts. There was a truth to the words that they found helpful and comforting. In the person of Jesus they found someone who related to where they were in life and who spoke in a language they could understand. I remember back in university when sermons were critiqued by classmates. One of the criticisms I received was that my sermons were too simple; the wording was not complex enough; there was not enough to challenge my classmates theologically. My answer was that I would rather have everything that I was saying understood than have most people walk away puzzled and confused - Paul confuses me; Jesus I get. If a shepherd speaks in a way that sheep can understand, the shepherd will have greater success in leading the sheep in a gentle yet firm way. They will find the pasture he wants them to graze in and they will drink the best water that can be found and they will be safe. If we would speak to one another as Jesus spoke to the people; if we would bring comfort, peace and hope to one another as Jesus did for the people of that day; perhaps more people would hear as I hear or as you hear. Jesus only had a short time to call the people to follow God. We have a lifetime and the presence of God in the Holy Spirit to guide and help us. We cannot do better than Jesus but we can strive to be like him. We may never find the ears of everyone open to hear God but we can keep trying by showing others that we are listening to God! Amen.
Bible Text: Revelatin 5:11-14 and John 21:1-19 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Nourishing Faith – John 21:1-19 It is only in the Gospel of Luke that we sense the depth of anguish felt by the disciple Peter when the cock crowed twice and Peter came to realize that he had denied his Lord three times – just as Jesus had predicted. It is significant that we remember this detail from Luke’s account because I believe that in this encounter of Peter and Jesus in John’s Gospel, Peter is still feeling that anguish and grief. In that moment before the crucifixion of Jesus, Peter came to realize how weak he truly was and how unprepared he was to really follow Jesus. And as the events of that last day played themselves out, Peter was no doubt racked by great swings of emotion as he would have chastised himself for his weakness and yet struggled to imagine how he would have responded differently. True enough, he had remained with the others after the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. He had even run to the tomb to check out the story of the women who had told them that Jesus was raised from the dead. But there still seemed to be a nagging doubt within him as to his suitability to even consider carrying on the mission of Jesus. Even the gift of the Holy Spirit does not seem to impress upon him that he is still worthy of being one of God’s ambassadors for the coming kingdom and the return of God in Christ. But when Jesus appears to the disciples while they are fishing, it is Peter who does not wait for the boat to reach land but jumps out and wades in to the shore. After they have all shared a meal, Jesus asks Peter a question: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Peter cannot say whether his love for Jesus is any greater than the other disciples. His answer is simple: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” A second time Jesus asks the question but this time he drops the end of the question and just asks if Peter loves him. The answer is the same: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” When Jesus asks the question again, Peter declares not only that the Lord knows that he loves him but that he knows this because he knows everything. Through this trinity of questions, Jesus affirms the heart of Peter. Through this questioning as to whether Peter loves him, Jesus is encouraging Peter to acknowledge that despite everything that has happened, that his love for Jesus has never waned. But Jesus goes a step further. While the questions Jesus asks encourages Peter to realize that he has never stopped loving Jesus even though he denied ever knowing him, Jesus is affirming to Peter that he still has a place in Jesus’ plans. He wants Peter to feed the lambs, tend the sheep; feed the sheep. Peter is often spoken of as the one who is the Rock, the one upon whom Jesus founded the church; but while one branch of the church adopted Peter in the physical sense, there is far more to make of Peter as the Rock in a spiritual sense. Peter is the closest example that we have of a disciple of Jesus who revealed his full humanity. Peter is the one who deeply loves, who acts impetuously, who makes mistakes, who comes out with profound statements, who makes bold assertions. He encompasses all of our human emotions and many of our human reactions to the divine. He is anything but meek and mild and yet he can be that too. Here Peter is being asked by Jesus not to found an organization with its own rules and procedures. Jesus is asking him to be a shepherd to those who will put their faith in God and who will seek to follow the will of God for their lives. As John described Jesus as the Good Shepherd, so Jesus calls on Peter to be a shepherd like him. He asks Peter to take the role of Protector, Nurturer, Sustainer of the sheep and lambs. Peter is to be a teacher and a guide. He is to love the lambs and sheep as much as he loves Jesus. Certainly there will be a need for discipline but the discipline is to be exercised in love. It is clear from the Acts of the Apostles that Peter takes this responsibility seriously. We learn of his struggles when he is challenged to know how to accept people who were not born in the Jewish tradition of faith in God. He struggles to reconcile how God can reach out to people well beyond what he understood from history. The result is that he learns to grow in his understanding of God but also learns more of what it means to feed the lambs and tend the sheep. For so many people today, the church has become an institution that is full of rules and rituals. It is shaped by its traditions and trappings. But it has also become compartmentalized. Our emphasis on our buildings and our structures and our procedures has led us in many cases to take the heart of the faith and make it the window dressing. And that is precisely what Jesus was trying not to do when he spoke to Peter. He did not want Peter to focus on building an institution but building up people. He wanted Peter to focus his time and attention on giving to people what they needed to live their lives in such a way that we felt nourished and filled. This didn’t mean that Peter would always do or say what the people wanted to hear but it meant that he would be seeking to guide them in their lives so that their faith in God could be strengthened. He would encourage them to read the Word of God and learn the lessons Jesus taught that they might discover for themselves the true meaning of life. He would encourage them to seek for God in every moment of their lives. He would encourage them to be mindful of one another and conscious of their need to support one another. And when they were following a path that could potentially harm them, he was to intervene and guide them on the right path. I have said before that more than 90% of our lives are lived outside of the place where we gather as a community of faith. It was rare that we heard of Jesus in the temple or synagogue teaching the people. Life lessons were shared where people were and when they needed to hear them because nourishing faith is not a once a week thing. It is a daily thing, even an hourly thing. We will never be known for what we say or do inside these walls as a community of faith. We will be known for what we say and do outside of these walls. But if our faith is to be an active part of our daily living, we need to think of nourishing our faith every day. No one feeds a lamb one day a week; no one would think of seeing if the lamb is safe one day a week. Feeding and caring for sheep and lambs is a daily task. And so is our faith. Peter was called by Jesus not to found an organization but to nurture an organism. He was called by Jesus not to be a rule maker but a nurturer and a guide. In this time it is critical for us as communities of faith to recognize that the most important role we can have with each other is not that of gatekeeper but of shepherd. I encourage each one of you to nourish your faith in God and to be an encouragement to one another as you live your life seeking the will of God wherever you go. AMEN
Bible Text: John 20:19-31 | Preacher: Rev. Marianne Emig Munro When I was in seminary, one of the classes I had to take was Greek. I am not very good at languages. I am even worse at being able to name and identify the grammar and parts of speech. I did better at the vocabulary of Greek, and one of the reasons was that I started to hear the Greek words and how they often form the roots of English words (or even are taken straight from the Greek). For example, did you know that “Thesaurus” is a Greek word that means “treasure”? And did you know that the Greek word for sugar is “sacchar”, from which we get the word “saccharine”? Or how about the words “bibliography” or “bible”, which come from the Greek word for “book”? I could go on and on. Finding out that these words had Greek roots made it easier to learn the vocabulary for my Greek class, even though I always have to struggle with the grammar, and whether a noun is a masculine, feminine or neuter noun!! So when I was looking at the text for this week, I decided to check out the Greek text, especially the text referring to the locked door. What I discovered was wonderful.First I read that the Greek word for “closed” or shut is “kleiso”. As I stared at the screen and pronounced the word to myself, I wondered, why does this sound so familiar? There they were. The called ones, the disciples of Jesus, suffering post-traumatic stress to be sure, locked away, behind kleisoed doors. They were afraid of the Jewish leaders who crucified Jesus, and who they thought might next come after them. Because they were afraid, they weren’t letting anyone in. But because they were afraid, and hiding behind closed doors, they also weren’t taking the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world. So here John presents us with a closed room containing a closed community. “Kleiso”, closed by their fear.In some It ways reminds me of the modern church.Our church seems to be dogged by fear. Fear because we look out and see aging and dwindling congregations. Fear because that church has become irrelevant to our families, neighbours and communities. Fearful of what the future might hold for the Presbyterian Church in Canada. We’re also afraid of changes in our society and what is going on in the world around us. I think that the modern church is ghettoed, ghettoed by our fears, fears of “Muslim” terrorists, fears of those whose lifestyles are different, fears of change. Closed rooms, closed disciples, closed minds. It is dreadful what fear will do to disciples. The book, the “The Open Society and its Enemies” was written at the end of World War II by political philosopher Karl Popper. Popper, a Jewish intellectual and professor who fled Austriajust before the beginning of World War II, argued that a free and open society is the most desirable for humanity. His book is an uncompromising defense of liberal democracy and a powerful attack on the intellectual origins of totalitarianism, or a “closed society”, as exemplified by Plato, Marx and Hegel. This book seems to be eerily prophetic, given what is happening in the political arena of our neighbour to the south, where some presidential candidates are appealing to a climate of fear in order to limit the rights and voices of individuals and move towards a more “closed society”. I wondered if this climate of fear is what is also impacting us in the church today, making us move toward a more “closed” society. It was then that I realised why “kleiso”, the Greek word for closed, had caught my attention. It sounded so much like another Greek word that is common in church usage. “Kleiso” is linked etymologically to “ecclesia”, the Greek word that came to describe the church! The Ecclesia (literally translated “not closed”) was the Open Society. Not closed, unsealed, outed and free. The ecclesiathat celebrated freedom from systems of dominance, fear and oppression. How wonderful that the Church mothers and fathers chose ecclesia –“not closed”, to describe the community of Jesus’ early followers. And in our Scripture passage today, it becomes clear that, in this upper room encounter, Jesus ourtomb busting, resurrected saviour was NOT going to be cocooned by fear. He came to tell the disciples that they weren’t going to be a closed society, keeping other people out because of fear. Jesus broke out of the tomb in order to give to them the Good News of life eternal! And he clearly expected them to share that news, when he said to them “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And he breathed his life-giving spirit into them. He was making it very clear. He was saying to them “You are not to remain ‘kleiso’; you are ‘ecclesia’. Come out! I am sending you!!” So I wonder. I wonder if our ghettoed suspicious fearful church of 2016 can still feel the resurrection breath on our cheeks? I have no doubt that the risen Jesus is still breathing on us. He isn’t stopped by closed doors. So one way or another, he is going to break into our closed hearts and minds as well, dismiss our fears, and fill us with the light and breeze of the Good News! Our Saviour is calling us! Which will you be? Open or closed? Klesio or ecclesia? Locked or unlocked? 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: Isaiah 50:4-9a and Philippians 2:5-11 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp May the mind of Christ my Saviour – Philippians 2:5-11 Perhaps it seems strange that we didn’t have the traditional reading for Palm Sunday. True, we need to be aware that not every one knows the story and so I will speak of it in my message to you but I wanted to explore a little bit of the mind of the person who comes to Jerusalem on this day. There is a wonderful feeling of celebration and hope surrounding the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The crowds who have gathered to celebrate the coming feast of Passover are delighted to see the Teacher from Galilee. His presence is welcomed by shouts of praise. He is recognized as a blessed person sent from God who has brought healing and hope to so many. But the adulation of the crowd is also cause for concern among others. There is fear that the response of the people to Jesus may cause a physical and political rebellion that could spell disaster for the people of Israel. The fact that Jesus enters on the back of a colt or a donkey is a sign that a conquering hero has come to Jerusalem – for that is how conquering heroes enter a capital city and the shouts of praise and the spreading of palm branches and cloaks are signs of the people’s thankfulness for the victory the hero has attained. But note that Jesus does not come on a majestic steed emblazoned with jewelled saddle or bridle or bit. He comes on a young colt which is a sign that while he is a conquering hero, his victory will not be of this world or simply of a physical deliverance but rather that he is a humble hero – one whose victory is more concerned with the soul, the mind and the heart. His victory will not be a temporal one that tomorrow could change but rather an eternal victory that nothing will ever be able to reverse. Of course the path to that victory will bring much grief and pain and suffering but for today it is a joyous celebration. Now, were the people who welcomed Jesus that day aware of the symbolism of his actions? No doubt they were not. Even though it was clear that Jesus knew of the colt and that its use could be secured, there does not appear to be any recognition among the disciples of the significance of Jesus’ choice or of the subsequent adulation that his entry received. What is clear to us in this day is that Jesus knew what the symbolism of his choices were and further he knew what the coming week’s events were to be. And so it is that we will explore the mind of the one who chose to enter Jerusalem in such a triumphant yet humble manner. In the passage from Isaiah we read what has come to be known as one of the servant songs. These are prophecies which are believed to speak of Jesus and the path that he would take to secure the salvation of humankind. It is clear from the passage that the one described here will be a teacher, a healer, a Sustainer of people. It is also clear that he will not allow himself to be distracted or deterred from following the path ordained for him. No amount of physical pain will cause him to abandon his mission. He will stand before those who seek to judge and condemn him and prove that there is no good reason on earth to declare him guilty. In fact Pilate himself will come to the conclusion that there was no law broken by which he could condemn him. And while it may have appeared that he was shamed by what would be done in his trial and crucifixion, he saw no shame. He saw only a need to sacrifice himself for the sake of humanity itself and knew that in his sacrifice there would be vindication and hope. In the passage from Philippians, Paul encourages the people in the church to ever keep before them what was in the mind of Jesus Christ. The greatest temptation we can have as believers is to believe in our own greatness. We can be tempted to see ourselves as better than others – perhaps more righteous, more truthful, more honourable, more worthy of praise or thanks. If the one who was indeed God in the flesh and who could have chosen to save himself chose to follow the path the Father had placed before him and remain obedient even to the point of surrendering this present life, can we or should we do anything else or less? That is the challenge that Paul places before the people. If the one who could have made the world go his way chose to follow the path of the one who sent him into this world, what is to be our choice; what is to be our path? The path we are encouraged to take as followers of God in Jesus Christ is the path that Christ revealed to us in his ministry and life. And that path was revealed to us through his teaching and example which revealed to us what was in his mind. And that mind that was in Christ Jesus is to be the mind that is to guide us as we wind our way through this veil of flesh. We are to seek to do nothing from a selfish motive or out of a sense of our own self-importance. We need to be aware of our own needs and interests but also be willing to balance those needs and interests with the needs and interests of others. In other words, we need to consciously live in such a way as to be supportive of one another and allow each of us to feel fully engaged in the life of this community of faith and wherever life takes us. We are to be mindful of the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual state of one another and seek as much as possible to bring wholeness into all our relationships with one another in community and beyond. Paul appeals to the people to strive for unity in thought and action. He makes this appeal by directing them to think of what it means to each of them to be in relationship to God through Jesus Christ; he appeals to them by directing them to think of what it means to them to have received the Spirit of God into their lives. If their relationship to God in Christ, if the Spirit of God in their lives means anything to them, then their desire will be to seek to live with one another in such a way as to show a deep love for one another. May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day Jesus’ love and power controlling all I do or say. Could we have faced what lay ahead of Jesus when he entered Jerusalem? No doubt we would have failed. But then we were never expected to take that path. The path we are asked to take is that of disciple and it is a path we are called to take with each other. We are called not to be Christ but to be like Christ. We are called not to have the mind of Christ but to let the mind of Christ influence our daily thoughts and actions so that we may ever remain mindful of the one whom we acknowledge as Lord and Saviour and so that we may ever remain mindful of our calling to be servants of God as we live with one another in our community of faith!
Bible Text: 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: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18 and Philippians 3:17-4:1 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Healing the Breaches – Philippians 3:17-4:1 Last week was the first Sunday in Lent and a traditional time to reflect on the personal and yet communal struggle of our Lord as he dealt with the temptations of life as a creation of God. Each of the temptations plumbed the depths of our most basic desires as humans and each temptation was answered with a strength of mind and spirit that exceeded anything we could even imagine. The purpose of such testing was to ensure that the frailty of our humanity could be saved by the divine heart and spirit of God as found in Jesus Christ. In such a perfect union of God and human creation, God could draw us into a relationship that would not only enable us to better handle the temptations of this world but enable us to know the love and support of God for our lives both now and into eternity. As much as the plan of God was for us to share this world with him in perfect peace and harmony, his heart would not allow him to force us to accept that plan. And so as we read through the history of the people of God, we discover over and over how God seeks to share his vision for life and how each successive generation responds. Our Old Testament reading today speaks of one of the responses that Abraham – then known as Abram – made. He knew that he was old and that his wife had had no luck with having a child. And yet when God told him that he would have a son of his own and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, it is recorded that he believed the word of God and that it was counted to him as righteousness. As hard as it was for him to accept, he made a choice to believe. Of course he still had his doubts and his struggles; and though other responses of Abraham were not so wise and he didn’t always act in the most righteous of ways, he never lost faith in the God who had called him to leave his birthplace. The Apostle Paul was well aware of the doubts and struggles of those who had felt the call of God and had committed their lives to following the will and plan of God. He knew well enough how important it was for people to have not only a proper understanding of their relationship to God but also a proper attitude. He knew full well the challenges of living as a follower of Christ but he also knew full well the consequences of not living as a follower of Christ. Paul’s invitation to the people to imitate him is significant for he was asking the people to not just do as he said; but to do as he did. It is so easy to speak words of encouragement and then not actively encourage; to speak words of comfort but not actively comfort; to speak words of peace but not bring peace. The people needed to be reminded that they had come to faith in God through Jesus Christ not that they might build their kingdom but that they might build the kingdom of God; they were to remain keenly aware that they were to follow the path of God in Christ. And as a fellowship of believers each of them was to remember that the focus of their life was not their own glory or praise but the glory and praise of God. Conflicts in the church are nothing new. Differences of opinion and thought have ever been a part of faith for it is foolishness to believe that we will all see everything with one heart and one mind. There is a great temptation for people to try and mould any community of faith into a reflection of their own desires and hopes and not that of God. William Barclay in his Daily Study Guide on this passage reminds us that “our only safety against temptation [be it of body, mind or spirit] is to be in the Lord, always to remember him, always to walk with him, always to feel his presence around us and about us…..The Church and the individual Christian can only stand fast when they stand in Christ”. (Commentary on Philippians, p. 88) That wonderful catch phrase that gained such popularity WWJD – like any catch phrase – only holds ultimate and real meaning to those who not only ask the question but are prepared to hear and follow the answer. Certainly we are free to decide the path we desire to take through this life; we are free to love or to hate; we are free to be generous or selfish; we are free to enter into a relationship of mutual love and friendship with God and with each other or to see God as someone to call upon in time of need. But let us ever remember that to be called Christians will require of us not our own perfection but our desire to be led by the Spirit of the One who can ultimately bring us to perfection. As we approach the table of the Lord, let us remember that we come to remember the sacrifice he made for us and because we seek to deepen our relationship with God in every way. And let us ever be willing to share with all who come to this place not only the blessings of this sacrament but the blessing of living as a community of God’s people gathered to share our joys and sorrows, our hopes and our disappointments in communion with one another as we journey in faith.