Bible Text: Deutoronomy 23: 1-11, Luke 4: 1-13 and Romans 10: 8-13 | Preacher: Speaker: Donna McIlveen Love for You be Lived Today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. We read together the Lenten liturgy at the beginning of the service. In that liturgy we were reminded that Lent is a journey. We read together: “God is with us in our journey of becoming, guiding our steps all the way.” (author the Rev. Karen Horst). On the back of the bulletin it states: “We began the season of Lent this week, as season of reflection, repentance and renewal.” (author the Rev. Helen Smith). Expanding on those thoughts we can say that in our Lenten journey we are called to reflect upon how we are living our life…we are called to repent of those actions that are not loving toward God and our neighbour…and we are called to renew our life so that our living is a loving reflection of what God has done for us in Jesus. We take time for reflection…for repentance…and for renewal…so that the love we have for Christ Jesus our Lord is lived. Love for You be Lived. When I was looking through the Book of Praise for hymns for this service I came across the hymn we sang earlier, Teach Me God to Wonder. I chose it because it was in the Love section…and today is Valentine’s Day…a day for celebrating love. But I also chose it because throughout the season of Lent we are called to reflect upon the gift of love freely given to us in Christ Jesus. I like the way the hymn writer puts that call: love for you be lived. The refrain goes like this: “Praise to you be given…love for you be lived…life be celebrated…joy you give.” In Lent we journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter and in that time period…as we are drawn closer and closer to the cross…we experience with greater abundance the love of God and God’s redeeming grace. As we get closer to Easter Sunday and the victory of Christ over sin and death we realize the sheer joy that is the gift of salvation. That is of course something worth celebrating and that fills us with joy. “Praise to you be given…love for you be lived…life be celebrated…joy you give.” Lent is 40 days in length – about a month and a half – and began this past Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, and will end Saturday evening, March 26th, just before Easter Sunday. The 40 day period commemorates the time Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and praising and engaging in scriptural debates with the devil. The story of the temptation of Jesus is the traditional story for the first Sunday in Lent. It’s a story that takes place in the wilderness – not the go to place for joy and celebration – and yet throughout the story we are reminded of God’s care and protection…and that when Jesus was in the wilderness, he placed his trust in God…and God was with him. As we reflect upon the story today it is good to remind ourselves that when we find ourselves in the wilderness… we are not alone. God goes with us into the wilderness. No matter how far we may wander… we are never too far from God. God loves us and by his grace, God sustains us. The story of Jesus’ temptations appears in the first 3 gospels and today we are looking at Luke’s version. The temptation of Jesus takes place following his baptism. Luke tells us that ‘Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work.’ ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.’ Now that is an understatement. In the wilderness – the desert – for 40 days and 40 nights…and fasting the whole time. Fasting not because Jesus didn’t have any food…but fasting or going without food as a means of spiritual discipline. I don’t know if any of you have ever fasted, for any length of time – I know I haven’t – but it is hard to imagine being without food for 40 days and 40 nights. The first thought that goes through my mind is that’s an awfully long time to be without food. We live in a part of the world where there is an abundance of food and we rarely go without for 40 hours let alone 40 days. Very few of us go to bed hungry and very few of us wake up not knowing where our next meal will come from. We know that many in this world do go without – and not out of choice but because there is nothing. It is hard for us to imagine not being able to provide a basic meal for our children…for our loved ones. It is hard for us to imagine being without…and what that might cause us to do. Food is a staple…a basic need. What better place for the devil to start. The devil played on Jesus’ hunger. The devil invites him to tell a stone to turn to bread. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” The devil knows Jesus can do it… Jesus knows he can do it… but he doesn’t. As the Son of God, Jesus knows that he is not to use his divine power for himself. His power is for healing, feeding and ministering to others. Even in the wilderness… after forty long and hungry days… he trusts in God to provide and sustain him. He responds and quotes from Deuteronomy 8:3 “One does not live by bread alone.” The remainder of the verse is not recorded by Luke – it is by Matthew – but we can probably all recite it: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” ‘Then the devil led Jesus up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.” The devil offers to give to Jesus all their glory and authority. You can rule the world… if…you worship me… says the devil. But again Jesus places his trust in God. He does not deny who he is… nor whose he is. His allegiance is to God alone, and all the power in the world will not tempt him to switch allegiance from God to the devil. Jesus quotes this time from Deuteronomy 6:13 stating: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” And then for the final temptation, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, and said: “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.” Using Jesus’ tactic of quoting scripture, the devil quotes from Psalm 91, verses 11 and 12 – which we read earlier. He quotes saying: “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” The writer of the Psalm wasn’t promising protection for recklessness. The words preceding the words recited by the devil tell us that the Psalmist was speaking of obedience: “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.” The devil…once more…attempts to separate Jesus from God. But as quickly as the devil quotes scripture to Jesus…Jesus responds. This time Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy 6:16 stating: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Jesus understands that if he put God to that kind of test it would be a clear sign that he did not trust God. And so after trying three times… and not succeeding… the devil leaves…for the time being…for that opportune time. Jesus’ time in the wilderness was long. It was difficult. It was tough. And though we ourselves will likely never be in the desert without bread…or shown all the kingdoms of the world…or placed on the top of a tall building…we all face temptations. We all find ourselves in situations where the choice is to go with God…or not. I’m currently working through a Lenten study called “Lent 2016 – The Gift of New Creation” written by Thomas Ehrich. In his reflections on the temptations of Jesus as recorded by Luke, Thomas Ehrich writes: “This Gospel reading isn’t just a quaint story from the mythological prehistory of Jesus. It connects directly with the worlds we know, and its message is clear: When times are tough – as they inevitably will be – the evil one tries to draw us inside a bubble where we lose touch with reality. In such times we must remember with renewed dedication to worship God, cling to God, listen to God, and serve God alone.” In the wilderness Jesus shows us that he belongs to God. Jesus shows us that he will use his divine power not to meet his own needs, but to serve others. Jesus shows that he will not put God to the test. Jesus shows us that love for you be lived, is possible. Jesus spent time in the wilderness. We spend time in the wilderness. All of us have been… are in… or will face a wilderness of some type. All of us face such wildernesses no matter our age or circumstance. We face temptations. We experience struggles. We are challenged. But we don’t face them alone. We are not alone now, nor will we ever be. Jesus…God with us…is with us now and always…and will be until he returns, just as he promised. As we find ourselves in the wilderness…what can we learn from Jesus’ time there? Jesus shows us that we belong to God, and that our allegiance is to God first. Jesus shows us that the gifts of God are for service to others. As followers of Christ, it is not a me, myself and I way… but love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself. Jesus shows us that we are not to put God to the test. We are all guilty of quietly… or not so quietly… asking God to follow our will. After all we know what’s best. So…change this…stop that… get rid of this…do this. God if you’ll only do this…then I know the situation will get better. Too often we try to trump God with our desires. Another way we ask God to follow our will is by telling God to show us a sign. Just show me a sign, we say. Sometimes we’re a bit silly in our seeking a sign to justify something we want or want to do. We’re out shopping and if we see something we’ve wanted, and it’s on sale, then, well that must be sign we are meant to buy it. We can all think of other silly examples. But we can just as easily think of times when we have asked for something from God…prayed that God will come through with it…tried to manipulate God into doing what we want…and then when we don’t get what we want…we have trouble trusting God. But was our prayer really ‘Thy will be done’…or was it ‘My will be done’? Seeking our will is a real temptation we all face, and are challenged with. Each day, we are called to trust that God is there and is sustaining us…even when the wilderness seems like it is never-ending. In Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians he reminds us to place our trust in God. We will not be put to shame…and everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. There is nothing wrong with calling out to the Lord – the Lord of all who loves even us – but we don’t call out to put the Lord to the test. We call on God to forgive us…to help us… to strengthen us to live the love we have been given. Loved for you be lived. Our desire should be to live more and more in God’s loving ways. Our Lenten journey is just beginning. During the season of Lent…we can use the time to get closer to God. No matter how busy and preoccupied our lives are…or how tired and overwhelmed we may be…there is always time for God. God is there… we just need to give ourselves to Him and let Him work. Lent is the perfect time to put into practice those spiritual disciples we all know are good for us…and yet don’t always follow. It takes practice…but we have 40 days. During Lent, take time to read God’s Word. Take the suggested scripture readings for the season of Lent and read them. You can find them all listed on the internet. Spend time with God in daily prayer. Spend time in reflection…repentance…and renewal. Take time to reflect upon how you are living your life. Take time to repent of those actions in your life that are not loving toward God and your neighbour. Take time to renew your life so that your living is a loving reflection of what God has done for you in Jesus. Let us all do so…so that the love we have for Christ Jesus our Lord is lived. Love for You be Lived. Amen.
Bible Text: Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp It is interesting to note that the record that appears in the Gospels of the transfiguration of Jesus is not the first time that such an event took place. Way back in the history of the people, a similar event occurred with Moses when the covenant between God and the people of Israel was being renewed. Previously Moses had gone to Mount Sinai where he received the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. Moses was 40 days and nights receiving laws and guidance from God for the people. On his return he noticed that the people had grown weary of waiting for him and had made an idol of gold. In anger, he broke the tablets. Now he was back on the mountain to meet with God again to receive anew the tablets. Once again he spent 40 days and nights on the mountain with nothing to eat or drink. This time when he returns it is recorded that his face shone. The brightness of it was a sign to the people that Moses had been in the presence of God Himself. Moses was glowing with the glory of God. How long this glow stayed with Moses is not clear but certainly it lasted quite a long time as evidenced by the Scripture which records that Moses veiled his face when speaking to the people but removed it when he entered the tent to speak with God. It is clear from this passage that the idea of transfiguration is not new. But it is also clear that this is not a normal thing as well. In fact, the only two times that anyone is seen as transfigured is in the time of Moses and then Jesus. The first is the leader who freed the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt in a physical deliverance and the second is the leader who will free the people from their bondage in a spiritual deliverance. Both Moses and Jesus spend 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness in preparation for the task they will be expected to complete. For Moses it is to bring a renewed covenant to the people and to gain their acceptance of it and for Jesus it is to bring an everlasting covenant to the people and to gain their acceptance. Further to this the people as a whole spend 40 years being prepared to be the people who can inherit the land promised to them and live in the land according to the covenant they make with God. It is not without significance that the three figures who appear transfigured on the mountain are Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Moses and Elijah are leaders who overcame great obstacles and who renewed the covenantal relationship between the people and God - Moses in the great exodus and Elijah in confronting the false gods of the king’s wife. Both also have no known place where they are buried. Moses disappears into the hills and Elijah is swept up into the heavens. Jesus comes as the last in a line of great prophets and teachers. He will not only call the people to a renewal of the covenant in baptism but he will ensure that they will have an eternal place with God by the sacrifice of his life as atonement for the sin of the people. It is indeed a strange quirk of the church calendar that we are still in the midst of winter and just recovering from the events of Christmas and the Epiphany when we will be thrust headlong into a series of events that will culminate in the remembrance of the final days of Jesus upon this earth. One of the more difficult things for us to grasp as we live in this time and place is how to live the whole of the Christian message and yet at the same time relive in such a short period of time events that transpired over a period of more than 30 years with the majority of what we know of Jesus coming in just 3 years. We are set on a brief tumultuous ride between Christmas and Easter. We cover all the main events of his life and death and resurrection. We then settle until Pentecost when we celebrate the full gift of the Holy Spirit upon us and then we seem to go dormant until the whole thing begins again at Advent. The event recorded as the transfiguration is meant to be a pivotal point in the ministry and mission of Jesus. Up to this point Jesus has been speaking with the disciples about the fact that he has been sent from God to redeem the people and draw them back to a relationship with God but he has also told them that this will mean his suffering and death – death on a cross. The disciples would no doubt be deeply distressed at the thought of their teacher and friend – one who had great power to heal and to guide – being led to a cruel death. In the transfiguration the disciples not only see the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus, they also see with him two pivotal leaders of the faith. Their presence was significant because they represent turning points in the history of the people of the covenant and the message to the disciples would be that the one whom they were following was also one who would make a significant impact on the life and faith of the people. While they may not yet understand that Jesus is indeed God Himself in the flesh, they would certainly be able to understand that God was present. And then in the midst of Peter’s stumbling words, a cloud comes and overshadows them as in the days of Moses. And from the cloud comes the voice of God encouraging – even commanding – the disciples to listen to Jesus as he is the Son of God. The event of transfiguration is never repeated. The event is never marked by any visible outward sign but no doubt it left its mark on the hearts and minds of the disciples that day. The words that echo from this story are simple: God reveals to the disciples who Jesus really is. And while the disciples only have a glimpse of what is to come, they already have seen that there is a connection and a continuity between the old covenant established with God in the time of Moses, reaffirmed in the time of Elijah and the new covenant with God to be established in the time of Jesus. They have but one thing to do and that is to listen – listen to the voice of God in Jesus. Jesus knows the path that he must take and he knows the sacrifice that he must make. The disciples in that day could not change that path and we cannot change history. But just as they were encouraged, so we are encouraged today to listen – listen to Jesus!
Bible Text: Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke: 4:21-30 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Not by Choice – not my Choice! – Jeremiah 1:4-10 Back in high school I was struggling with Physics. Nothing seemed to work for me and I was failing. I quipped to a friend that if I didn’t pass I was going to go into pastoral ministry. I passed physics but had come to the conclusion that my path in life was not to be in the sciences. Of course passing or not passing one course should not be the determining factor as to a choice of vocation in life. On reflection my decision to enter ministry seemed rash but somehow I couldn’t stop thinking about why that thought had come to me. In a separate incident I was sitting in the choir at my home church. No one was around me when suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to see who it was. There was no one there. My back was to a wall and I was the only one sitting in my row. Puzzled, I spoke to my minister about it. He believed that I had been touched by the hand of God. Whether or not this was a call to pastoral ministry had yet to be determined but it was another sign. A process of discernment began which continued through the rest of high school, college and into my university years. And even though I was pursuing studies designed to lead to eventual ordination to ministry within the Presbyterian Church, I kept praying and asking for confirmation from God as to the legitimacy of the call I felt. St. Augustine said that if you can do anything but pastoral ministry, do it. He said this not to discourage people from seeking to serve but rather to encourage them to be very sure that their motives for serving came from a place of genuine servant hood. As many of you know I left pastoral ministry for a period of 16 years. The decision to leave was not an easy one nor was the decision to return. I felt great trepidation and uncertainty about the process of returning to pastoral ministry. I have never seen what I do as anything but a calling. It is not a job, it is not a career. It is a vocation but one that I can only be effective in if I am prepared to listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit and let God direct my days. The prophet Jeremiah experienced the call of God as a young man. Yes, he was the son of a priest but his call to serve as a prophet of God was not something to which he aspired or even imagined. When you read about the life of this prophet and the suffering he endured, you find not a person who asked for any kind of mercy or understanding from people. He was not a person who sought to be revered or loved. He was a person who – with great compassion and empathy – spoke the words which God gave him. His task was to call the people to return to their God. And nothing swayed him from that task. Jeremiah was destined to take the path of a prophet for God from before the time he was born. God had his eye on Jeremiah and had determined that he would be the one to be God’s messenger to the people in this time. Despite all the protests of Jeremiah about his youth, God insists that he has been chosen. God then reassures the prophet that no matter what he will deliver him from any situation that he finds himself in – and Jeremiah will find himself in some very bad situations as he speaks to the people. But Jeremiah’s story is not unique. Over and over again in the Bible, we find the record of people like Jeremiah who have been called by God to be spiritual guides, prophets, and leaders of the people. In some respect, they are all not the kind of people that we would imagine as leaders but they share one thing in common. They are prepared to listen to the word of God and to serve God as faithfully as they can. And while they will have their personal struggles - and even show weakness and fear - in the end they will do what is asked of them and help the people to rebuild and strengthen their relationship with God. When Jesus came to the synagogue in Nazareth, it is recorded by Luke that he read a passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah in which the role of the prophet is proclaimed. The mission of Jesus was the same mission given to the prophets throughout history. It was to preach good news, to proclaim release, to open eyes and to free people from oppression. But Jesus knew that while these things would be welcomed by many, others would find these things disturbing. For it is one thing to speak of such things but to have them actually come to fulfilment is quite another. And while Jesus wanted nothing more than for the people to accept that the prophecy of Isaiah was to come to fruition, he knew that people had always found it easier to accept change when change happened somewhere else. To that end he mentions other prophets like Elijah and Elisha for whom the words of God for their generation struck a chord not with the people of Israel but people outside of the nation and yet people with a deep faith in God. Jesus knew the path that he had chosen to take would not be an easy one. He knew that miracles of healing of the body would not mean anything without the miracle of the healing of the spirit. But while many people were excited to be healed in their bodies, they were often not as excited about a spiritual healing. And so the prophet - whose message usually involved people making a change in spirit or heart – finds a cold reception in his or her own country. But a true prophet will never give up. The true prophet will hold fast to the message he or she has been entrusted with and will proclaim that message to the best of their ability no matter what. That kind of tenacity takes courage and strength. Those are the very qualities exhibited by the different prophets over the centuries and most excellently exhibited by God in Jesus Christ. Each one was chosen by God to be the messenger of their time but not one of them would have dared to choose that role for themselves! It was not their choice; it was God’s choice of them and they honoured that choice with the strength, wisdom and compassion that they received from him. AMEN
Bible Text: Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 3:1-17 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Robbie Burns has grown to become a figure of legendary importance in Scottish culture. The way in which he captured life in his time was unique. He wrote of the struggles of the common people. He found themes in religion, politics and love. Many of his poems have been set to music and their messages have inspired love and hope for more than 200 years. The poet was born in a thatched cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire. His father William was a well-educated farmer who was responsible in large part for the education of his children. William was a free thinker who had his issues with the church. He even wrote his own relatively liberal catechism as an alternative to the recognized catechism of the day. Robbie became an avid reader with an interest in most subjects including the philosophy of Adam Smith and John Locke. You could say that Robbie Burns was destined to be a rebel. The emerging Reformation of the 15th century had taken hold in Scotland largely through the influence of John Knox but the transition away from the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches to the new Reformed church was not without its trials and tribulations. In the mid 16th century a group of Presbyterians decided that the time had come to take a stand once and for all. They banded together in a movement that was known as the Covenanters. They made a pact with each other that they would accept no head of the church except God himself. The Reformation had freed people to have a relationship with God that did not depend on the intercession of a priest or religious leader and the covenanters were determined that they would never change. Thus were planted the seeds of free thinking in the church. Eventually this led to the great disruption of 1843 when the Free Church of Scotland came into being. It was in this period between the rise of the Covenanters and the great disruption of 1843 that William and his family lived. While not rejecting the church, William taught his sons to have a healthy skepticism when it came to matters of faith. As a result, it seems that Robbie – like his father – was not one to easily accept the authority of the elders of the local church. As a young man Burns studied local religious practices and read with interest liberal theological works of his day including that of the Unitarian thinker John Taylor. He was attracted to the preaching of two Ayrshire clergymen who held to the belief of Arius who argued that God the Father and God the Son were two separate entities. This was in direct opposition to the accepted belief in the church that God is a trinity but that all three entities are equal and one creation. His free-thinking father had given Burns a mind that sought to debate the issues of theology but his neighbours came to shun him as they found him to be what they called “Rab the Ranter”. Burns was ever the lover. However, his choice of partners never seemed to go well for him. He often got the cart before the horse and landed himself in hot water with the Church and the father of his first love – Jean Armour. His first thought was to escape and go to the West Indies to make a fresh start. To raise the funds needed, he published a collection of poems. He soon became a local celebrity. His fame spread and he abandoned his plan and moved to Edinburgh where he became known as the “ploughman poet”. Burns struggled with the conventional religious practice of his day. He believed deeply that every one needs to decide for themselves the truth about God and redemption. He struggled with the concept of original sin believing as the ancient Celts that the creation of God was good and therefore we are inherently good. He also felt that being scared into heaven by a fear of hell was not a good way to come to faith in God. Rather he believed that people were to be guided into living an honourable life. Eventually Burns was able to marry his longtime sweetheart but he only had 5 short years with her. The church and Jean’s family were now willing to grant their blessing. It was no doubt the sincere concern that Burns had always held for her welfare and the guilt that he expressed for his part in the trials of her life that made the difference. Burns was searching for the God of love and hope. He was searching for the God who would meet him where he was in life and encourage him to be all he could be. He was searching for a God with whom he could argue and discuss and through such times of conversation come to a place where his faith in that God made sense. The church of his day seemed to leave little room for such debate. The Calvinist influence was strong and Burns found himself in opposition to its theology, piety and social attitudes. Burns was a poet to be sure but he was a poet with a deep social conscience. He sincerely believed that all humans were to be treated with dignity and equality. He was concerned for the injustices that he saw in the society and remained outspoken until the end of his days. He took issue with both the clergy and the lay people in the church over the unwillingness of any of them to debate the matters of faith in such a way that people might come to understand for themselves what they believe. Orthodoxy ruled in the church and views that ran contrary to it were not tolerated. In one of his poems Burns even dared to wonder whether or not the Devil could be saved. The Calvinist interpretation of predestination was still quite strong in his time and his poem “Holy Willie’s Prayer” highlights the difficulty he found with the doctrine: O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell, Wha, as it pleases best Thysel’, Sends ane to heaven an’ ten to hell, A’ for Thy glory, And no for onie guid or ill They’ve done afore Thee! All in all, Burns was a simple farmer at heart but one whose free-thinking father had shaped him into a person who would never accept anything at face value. In his Epistle to the Rev. John McMath, he denounces the hypocrisy of the church: But twenty times I rather would be An atheist clean, Than under gospel colours hid be Just for a screen. As to the afterlife Burns was not sure whether he would merely moulder with the clods of earth of the valley or go to some reward for having acted an honest part among his fellow creatures. Burns believed that God had created us to enjoy life. Perhaps Burns enjoyed it too much but he did not see much joy or love in a faith that denied all the pleasures of life. He wrote: “We came into this world with a heart and disposition to do good for it, until by dashing a large mixture of base Alloy called Prudence alias Selfishness, the too precious Metal of the Soul is brought down to the blackguard Sterling of ordinary currency.” However we choose to remember Robbie Burns, it is clear that there was more to this person than perhaps we have come to believe. Though his life was short and troubled, though he found some success with his poetry and songs; perhaps the real story of Robbie Burns is a man who sought to have a relationship with his God – one in which he could feel a sense of joy and peace, one in which he knew in his heart that all who walked upon the earth could be embraced and made whole.
Bible Text: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp
Bible Text: John 2:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp A Quiet Miracle – John 2:1-11 It has been said that Presbyterians are cold and boring people who deny themselves pleasures when it comes to life – at least life in the church. In days gone by, it was believed that solemnity was to be maintained at all costs. Everything done within the church had an air of seriousness not found in other parts of life. Frivolity or anything approaching unbridled joy or enthusiasm was frowned upon. And yet it is clear from the reading in John’s gospel today that even Jesus himself took part in festive celebrations and was not opposed to the serving of wine. Of course we could always contend that the wine served in those days was not as strong as what we have today but the Scripture clearly indicates that it was quite possible to get drunk on the wine being served. Now saying this is not to suggest that we should not show discretion or sensibility when it comes to frivolity or festive celebrations; nor do I mean to suggest that we approach them with reckless abandon; but perhaps we need to ponder how best we can honour God with our lives and still allow ourselves to be joyful and celebratory in our living. Well, I digress; but clearly Jesus was at the wedding of a friend of his mother’s and his new disciples were with him. At this time, Jesus had been quietly gathering followers. Among the new recruits were two of John the Baptist’s followers. One of them, Andrew, then went and brought his brother. The next to join were Philip and Nathanael. As far as we know these were the only ones who were with Jesus at Cana. It is also obvious from the record in the Gospel that Mary was well aware of the powers her son possessed even though he had not ever revealed them in public. Remember that Mary pondered everything that she had heard from God concerning this child and everything that the prophets and the magi had confirmed. If indeed her Son was truly the incarnation of God himself, then it was more than likely – even inevitable – that he could do anything he desired. Her desire was that he use the power he had to help out her friend who had obviously miscalculated either the number of guests that were expected or how much each one would be capable of consuming. Whatever the case, there was a crisis. Mary knew that Jesus was capable of solving the crisis. Her faith in him was great. She instructs the servants to do exactly as Jesus will tell them. He points to jars that are reserved for solely for the rites of purification. In other words, these jars were not just common vessels but vessels to be used for religious purposes. Jesus then tells the servants to fill each to the brim with water. He then proceeds to perform the miracle of turning water into wine – 180 gallons worth. When the servants take the new wine to the steward, he is amazed at the quality. He remarks to the bridegroom how unusual it is to reserve the best wine for the latter stage of the party when many of the guests would not appreciate what they were drinking. But what is so interesting about this story is not the water turning into wine so much as the fact that the servants never disclose to the steward how it came to be; and none of Jesus’ disciples speak of it again. But it makes an impression upon them. Somehow this miracle reveals to them the truth about Jesus. And I think that what makes the difference in terms of this being a true miracles is not the mere turning of the water into wine but that it is the best wine the steward has tasted all night. Jesus not only will do signs that will amaze people, he will do signs that will reveal his desire to not just give people what they need but give them the best he can possibly give. When he heals a blind man, it is not partial sight he gives but full sight. When he heals a crippled man, it is not partial restoration but full mobility. This miracle is meant to announce to the disciples that the one in whom they have put their faith and trust is indeed the Son of God, indeed God Himself in human form and that this person has come to bring full and lasting healing and life to all who will listen and follow. It is also meant to show the disciples that Jesus will act not out of showmanship but out of love and compassion. When it comes to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he is reminding the people of the very mind of Jesus when it comes to sharing the gifts of the Spirit. To receive spiritual gifts is the hope and desire of all Christians. And in fact all of us receive spiritual gifts. But Paul wants the people to be aware of the fact that not everyone will receive every gift and that the gifts are given to us not as a matter of personal pride but as a means of encouraging and building up the people of God. What the Spirit of God gives to one person will not necessarily be given to another. Further Paul is concerned that we might seek to rate the gifts of the Spirit in an attempt to claim that our gift is of more benefit to the community. As tempting as it is to want to show off our gifts and make sure that everyone is ever aware of our wisdom or powers, it is so important to remain mindful of the reason for the gift and the purpose and end to which the gift has been given. When I was a much younger man, I learned a valuable lesson from my friendship with three clergy of various backgrounds. We all came from different religious schools of thought and followed different forms of worship and government but we shared one thing in common – our faith in God as expressed through Jesus. We also firmly believed in the power of the Holy Spirit. I had struggled with the whole notion of the gifts of the Spirit especially when it came to speaking in tongues. It seemed that many people I had met who had that gift made a great show of it and told others that it was a true sign that the Spirit of God was in them. These three friends reminded me that speaking in tongues was just one sign of the presence of God’s Spirit and not even to be counted as the greatest. One of them then said this: “The gifts of the Spirit are not given to us so that we can let them jangle; they are given for the building up of the people of God.” When our gifts become a matter of pride and perhaps arrogance, we lose sight of the reason for the gift of the Holy Spirit from God and the gifts that come with the presence of the Spirit in our lives. How does all this relate to what I said at the beginning of this message? Well, for one thing, we are encouraged to be joyful in our living recognizing that God has given us gifts in order that we may live a full and blessed life. For another, the wedding in Cana and the miracle of the water into wine is a sign that the miracles of Jesus were ever about drawing people to God by opening up to them the best possible path for them in their lives. He did it not for honour or prestige but out of love and compassion. And so we in this time and place are to do what we do as a community of faith not for our honour or prestige but out of love and compassion for one another. It is for each of us to be committed to live this life to the fullest with our God and to encourage others to do the same!
Bible Text: John 1:10-18 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp
Bible Text: HEBREWS 10:5-10 AND Luke 1:39-45 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp
Preacher: Speaker: Kathy Spruit Joy Joy – the joy experienced in the first Christmas – Angels announced to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10 . So what is joy? Joy means great happiness. However, joy and happiness are different. We are happy when things are going well for us. We are happy when are decorating for Christmas and wrapping up presents. But that happiness can go away when Christmas is over. Happiness is related to circumstances. Do you know what the word ‘circumstances’ means? Circumstances are all the things that are happening around us. It could be good things or it could not so good things, like when we are sick or someone else in our family is sick. When circumstances are right, there is happiness; but when the source of happiness departs, happiness goes with it. It is not this way with joy. Joy comes from God. Joy does not go away. Do you think Mary and Joseph had joy when Jesus was born? Of course they did. But the circumstances – all the things happening around them - were not good. Mary & Joseph were far from home, in a strange town without even a room to themselves in which Mary could give birth to the Child. But they were still joyful because it came from God and was centered in the birth of the Saviour. If we have Jesus in our heart we can also have joy in our heart even when things aren’t going well around us. And we can experience a peace of heart and soul which transcends understanding. We see and hear bells at Christmas. The joyful sound of bells reminds us that Christmas is a happy time. It is a happy time because it is the time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. Look closely at a bell. Do you know what gives a bell its joyful sound? Inside there is a tiny ball which makes the ringing sound as it bounces around against the inside of the bell. Our joy comes from the inside too. It comes from having love for Jesus in our hearts. The Bible says that even though we haven’t seen Jesus, we believe in Him and love Him, and because of that love, we are filled with glorious joy. Now hold a bell tightly in your hand and shake it. It doesn’t have a very joyful sound does it? Our hands have dampened the sound of the bells. It is no longer bright and joyful. It is dull and lifeless. We must be careful that we don’t let anything dampen our joy at Christmas. Sometimes we get so caught up in giving gifts & going to parties, that we miss the real joy of the season. It is important to remember that the reason we go to parties and give gifts during Christmas is to share in the joy of Jesus’ birthday. If the gifts and parties become the most important thing then we will no longer ring out the true meaning of Christmas. It may help to look at the word ‘joy.’ J esus O thers Y ou When you let Jesus in your heart and feel His love, you will put Jesus first in your life. You will feel joy because you know God is in charge of the world and is taking care of it even when things are going all wrong at the moment. When we feel Jesus’ love, we want to help others. And how can we do that at Christmas time? We can feel joy by sharing with others. We like to receive gifts and that makes us feel happy, but we find greater joy when we give to others. By sharing what God has so generously given to us, we will receive an even greater gift, the gift of joy. Prayer: Lord, help us to clearly ring out the good news that Jesus is born. Help us to remember to put you, Jesus, first in our lives and to put others’ needs before ours. It is then that we will experience true joy. Amen
Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp THE MORAL DILEMMA OF CHRISTMAS The Christmas season is one of great hope and promise. As we approach the day we find our thoughts turning more and more to how this time can reflect the love, peace, joy and hope that we find in the story of the baby born in Bethlehem. And as we do so, we probably have given thought to Mary and Joseph and the miracle not only of the way in which Mary conceived the child but how the couple supported one another through this whole episode in their life. True enough, this was the will of God and who would even think of going against the will of God. But stop for a moment and ponder what was being asked of a young couple planning to be married and start a family. They were engaged. They were preparing to start a family but not until after the marriage itself. Suddenly their world changed. Mary needed to come to grips with the fact that she had been chosen to bear the Messiah – the one to be sent from God to save the people from their sins and restore the people’s relationship with God. But the conception of this child was not in the way she would have expected. The child was not just to bear the special mark of God; he was to be conceived with the very seed of God. The man whom she had agreed to marry would not be the father but he would be expected to accept, love and care for this child as if he was his own. Joseph would be the role model for this child of what it meant to be a father and a man and yet know that this child was not really his own. The features of this child’s face, many of his mannerisms would come not from Joseph but from God. Every time he would look on this child, he would not see himself but the face of another. For Mary the experience was different and yet the same. She would see in Jesus features of herself, she would find in him mannerisms that he would pick up from her but she would also clearly see the features of another, one with whom she would share this child and yet one that she could only imagine through her interaction with this child. The Scriptures tell us the story and they do hint at the moral dilemma that both Mary and Joseph faced each in their own way; but the Scriptures really do not plumb the depths of the struggle nor do they really highlight just how important the decision of Mary and Joseph was to the birth of God into this world in human form. For God had decided that he would seek for the assistance of an ordinary human couple in order to accomplish his purpose and he counted on them actually agreeing to be part of his plan. Now what of the parents of Mary and Joseph? How did they respond when they found out that their daughter was pregnant but not by the man to whom she was engaged? Could they really believe her when she told them that an angel had visited her and that the fetus within her was truly a union of God with her? And what of Joseph’s parents? What would be their reaction? Would they be supportive of Joseph in his decision to still marry Mary or would they be feeling that Joseph was a fool for believing her story? Of course the Scriptures are not going to give us a long drawn out description of the dilemma that each of them faced but if we read between the lines, we can begin to appreciate what it meant for them and their families to accept what was happening to them. I called this message the moral dilemma of Christmas because the decision by Joseph and Mary to accept God’s plan to come into this world as a baby born of human and divine parentage was not the plan that either of them would have chosen for their life. The stigma that would be felt by both Mary and Joseph and by their families would have left them with feelings of shame. Such behaviour was not expected nor encouraged. To the others in their village, Mary would be seen as a fallen woman and Joseph would have been fully within his rights to refuse to take her as his wife. But in the end the decision is made and Joseph is determined that he will proceed with his marriage to Mary in spite of the social stigma it might bring and he determines to accept the child growing inside of her and that he will love him as his own. We can be thankful to both Mary and Joseph that they faced their moral dilemma and that they made the decision they did. Their decision not only assured that the baby would have a home in which to grow but also assured that the child would grow without the stigma that could have been attached to him. To everyone who knew him, he was the son of Mary and Joseph. Only when he began his ministry did the full story come out of who he was and how he came to be. Certainly Mary and Joseph knew the truth and so did their families but the secret – as with so many other things – remained in the heart of Mary. While the circumstances of Jesus’ birth are certainly unique in some ways, there are ways in which the birth reflects the reality for so many children in this world. In the gospel of John, the author reflects on the many ways that people can be born in this world. He recognizes that not all of us are born in a home with two parents who are married to each other. But he reminds us that however we come to be in this world, whatever the circumstances of our birth, whatever the moral implications of our birth in the eyes of the world or our society, each of us is a child of God; each of us is loved and cared for by God. Each of us is of great value in the eyes of God. The Celtic view of our faith is highly influenced by the apostle John. And as we learned while studying the Celtic tradition there is a strong belief that every child born bears the mark of God himself and that to gaze on a newborn baby is to look on the face of God. None of us chose how we came into this world and people can’t always control the circumstances under which children are conceived but we can make the decision to support and care for all children. Let us be thankful that the moral dilemma of Christmas in which the fate not only of one child but indeed of the whole world rested on the response of one young couple was answered with faith and love. May their response encourage us in our own moral dilemmas – whatever they may be! AMEN