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
Bible Text: Luke 1:68-79 and Philippians 1:3-11 | Preacher: Speaker: Jan Clapp Peace with Ourselves, with Each Other, and with God When you’re in the middle of conflict, it’s not hard to remember to cry out to God. And as soon as we cry out to God, during our battle, whatever that battle may be, the battle becomes God’s and not ours. Our part is to fight – to learn the skills of standing up against God’s enemies, and to wield the sword of the spirit which is the word of God. As we trust God and thrust our sword, we gain ground. All of us need to gain ground in the battle between good and evil. Some of us are fighting for our homes and families. Some of us are fighting despair, fear, worry or depression. Some of us are fighting to gain confidence. And if we will only cry out to God during the battle, we would occupy the land so to speak. Prayer helps us to remember that above all – the battle is God’s and he will fight for each one of us if we ask him. So take for example, the gift of a good night’s sleep. We take the gift of peaceful sleep too lightly. We forget to be grateful for such slumber – that is, until we cannot sleep. There are many causes for not being able to sleep. Sometimes the pressure of leadership can cause worry and worry causes you to lie awake. Sometimes caring for wealth or material goods can cause insomnia. Ecclesiastes 5:12 tells us: the Rich are always worrying and seldom get a good night’s sleep We can lose sleep thinking about how to get money, and then once we have it, we can lose sleep worrying about how to keep it. Sickness can also keep us from sleeping. Job 7:t5 – Job said.....when I go to bed I think “when will it be morning?” But the night drags on and I toss until dawn. Old age – or should I say – Older age can also cause sleeplessness. Grief and sorry can stop us from sleeping. But the good news is that there are always to deal with our sleepless nights, if pressure is keeping you awake, you could reach for the good book. A right attitude toward wealth leads to contentment that in turn leads to slumber. If the rigors of sickness or old age, or the pain of grief and sorrow forbid the blessings of sleep, we can use the night watches to pray and praise the Lord Sometimes it is a song in the night that comes to us as we lie awake. Then you can say with the psalmist, “I will lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone Lord, will keep me safe.” And for this, may Jesus Christ be praised. Grace and Peace are two of the greatest words and Paul used these two words as his greeting in all his letters, Sometimes he began his letter with “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. So the common Hebrew greeting was “Peace” or “Shalom”. This word has to do with a harmonious state of being – a lack of hostility from others and a harmonious state of well being within. We cannot have true peace until God’s grace has dealt with our sin. Grace summarizes god’s gift while peace summarizes the result of that gift. Peace describes felt grace. Paul often described God as the God of Peace or the god who gives peace. Paul prayed for peace of mind for his converts. May the Lord of Peace himself always give you His peace no matter what happens? To the believers in Corinth, he wrote “Live in Harmony and Peace.’ Then the God of love and Peace will be with you. And in Philippians Paul said “Keep putting into practice all you learned from me and heard from me and saw me doing and he god of Peace will be with you. God gives us peace as we remember what he has done and as we put his instructions into practice. So do you know anyone who needs peace of mind? Or Heart? Tell that person about the God of Peace. Do you know anyone crushed? Do you know anyone who needs to put right what is wrong? – to live rightly, speak rightly, and think rightly? Encourage that person to that end and give him or her a model to follow. Just as Paul the apostle did,. And as you model the life of peace that comes from grace, others will be impelled to follow suit. It’s not always easy to have peace in our heart, in our home and with God. But I think if we remember these simple ways to incorporate into our daily life, we can experience this peace we are talking about. So RECOGNIZE YUR CREATOR a give Him thanks every single day for all your blessings and what He has done in y our life. SEEK OPPORTUNITIES to put more love into the world. Strive to be a vessel of love, to fill the world with more compassion and kindness. This will also make you loving and lovable. BECOME MORE ACCEPTING. With every single interaction, surrender any tendency to judge another person. Pray for a more accepting heart. This step will make you gracious. FORGIVE anyone you have not forgiven. Whenever you withhold forgiveness, you keep yourself bound to your own feelings of guilt. Forgiving will make you kind. RECOGNIZE your mistakes – admit where you yourself have been wrong and be willing to be corrected. TRY TO SEE GOOD IN OTHERS. When you’re tempted to judge someone, make an effort to see their goodness. Your willingness to look for the best in people will subconsciously bring it forth. This step makes us positive. TAKE STOCK of your thoughts and behaviour. Each night ask yourself, “When were you negative when you could have been positive? When did you withhold love when you might have given it? This will help you to grow. BLESS THE WORLD. Pray not just that your own life will be blessed but that blessings are poured on everyone. And FINALLY Set aside time each day to spend in reflection and contemplation. Dwell in the presence of our loving God. And however you choose to do that, whether it is praying, meditating, reading the Bible or other spiritual material, taking a long walk through nature, or all of these.....But take time EACH Today is the second Sunday of Advent.....the Candle of PEACE. So as I conclude, I would once again, ask our living and loving God to help us to recognize his presence whenever we strive for PEACE. And ask Him to teach each one of us to be peacemakers so that we would have peace in our hearts, in our homes and with God TRUE PEACE WITH GOD. Amen
Bible Text: Isaiah 64 1-9 and Mark 13:24-37 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp An Early Morning Prayer Last week I spoke to you about how without the middle part of the life of Jesus, we would be left with a biography like a tombstone. There would be a date of birth and a date of death. We might learn that his birth was surrounded by great expectations and signs and we might learn that his death was not only horrible but probably not even a just death. Beyond that, there would be precious little to encourage us to see him as the Saviour, the one to guarantee the forgiveness of our sin by his blood. There would be precious little to cause us to believe that God had indeed been present in the form of Jesus and encourage us to live our lives both for this time and the future. I also spoke to you about how the people in the churches in Asia Minor were finding their enthusiasm flagging as they waited for the day of the return of the Lord. Life in the middle between the ascension of Christ and his promised return was getting long. The apostle John encouraged them to remember that all things will come to pass as God has ordained. But in the meantime we are to remain faithful to the God who has been, is and always will be faithful to us and all the people who have, do and will follow the path of God in Christ. But we all need something in our lives to give us focus. For many people the focus is found in a time of devotion at the beginning of the day. Over the years I have had a number of morning rituals to prepare myself for the day ahead. For about 10 years now I have found myself drawn more to the ancient tradition of the Celtic church and the strong connection that they felt between God, themselves and all creation. The sense of hope, peace and connectedness that I discovered has continued to support me day by day. And while there are prayers for early morning, morning, evening and night, I find that I mostly pray the early morning prayer but I need to make a habit of the night prayer as well. I usually arise around 6 in the morning and go to my office which is my work and prayer space. My time with God begins by standing and repeating the following: “As the morning sun brings light to the world once more, I come in prayer to you, my Lord. You created me and you know me. I am your child.” Before I even ask for anything in prayer, I recognize that the coming of the sun heralds a new day for me to remember my relationship to and with God. I recognize that for me I understand God to have created me and I acknowledge that he knows me. I accept that I am one of his children. Then follows the prayer which you have heard me recite on more than one occasion. The first thing I ask for is guidance and help. The next thing I ask for is courage, courage to face the problems that lie ahead. I have no doubt that there will be problems and I have no doubt that some of them will take more courage to face and deal with than others. The next thing I ask for is a heart wide open to the joys God has prepared for me. It is not easy to approach life with an open heart but without an open heart it becomes difficult to receive any joys for a closed heart only sees sorrow and hurt. But I believe that God has prepared for me to find joy and so with an open heart I can recognize it and receive it when it comes. Only when I have asked for courage and an open heart can I begin to think of asking for forgiveness of my many sins. But I seek forgiveness of my many sins so that I can begin the day anew. The prophet Jeremiah in his book entitled Lamentations reminded the people that the mercy of the Lord fresh each day. God truly does not hold anything against us except what we choose to let be held. Asking for forgiveness in the morning is an opportunity for us to recognize that the grace, mercy and kindness of God are there to be received. But forgiveness is a two way street; and so the purpose of asking for forgiveness for my many sins is so I can learn to be forgiving and compassionate to others in return. The purpose of going through this exercise in prayer is so that I can better serve God in a way that is right and pleasing to God in all that I do and all that I say. That is what I long for but it doesn’t mean I will always get it right. And while that is the main prayer that I pray I then ask for a blessing of God. I seek to bind unto myself the strong name of the Trinity by asking for: “The love of the Father who made me, The love of the Son who died for me, The love of the Spirit who dwells within me, To bless me and keep me.” I then go through an action that reflects the ancient Celtic belief in the thin veil that exists between heaven and earth. As a mark of the Trinity which I have asked to bless me, I then draw 3 circles around myself with the index finger of my right hand held high and say: “May the angels of Heaven protect me this day and circle me with the fragrance of peace. May Christ my Lord and loving friend protect me this day and circle me with affection and love. May the Spirit of truth who dwells in my heart protect me this day and circle me and fill me with joy.” I then close my prayer time with this affirmation: “My Father, I am your child. I go forth in your name. Keep me safe. There’s no magic in this prayer but there is power, as much power as I am willing to accept and acknowledge. The purpose of my sharing this with you today is to encourage you as you live in the middle of your life in this time to find your meaningful way of recognizing and remembering and living your relationship with God.
Bible Text: Revelation 1: 4 b-8 and John 18:33-37 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp Let’s be honest with ourselves. The last thing we expected to hear when we came to church today was a reading from the Gospel of John – especially one that is from John’s account of the trial of Jesus. Seems out of place with the time of year we are in. After all, we are starting to prepare ourselves for a more joyous event in the Christian calendar – that being Advent followed by Christmas and the Epiphany. None of those celebrations are what we could call downers. In fact every one of them is filled with the gifts of the season – hope, joy, love and peace. Yet here we are faced at the end of the official church year with a passage of Scripture that heralds that final significant event in the life of Jesus Christ. It’s as if we have skipped the middle and gone right from the miracle of birth to the catastrophic event of the crucifixion. Surely there is a better way for us to prepare for the coming weeks than to be reminded of one of the darkest moments in the chronicle of the Christian faith. And yet there is good reason for this passage to be here. We are a people who are living in the middle. We are a people who love to be reminded of the birth of Jesus Christ and yet do not necessarily want to be reminded of the death of Jesus Christ. But to be reminded of Christ’s death at this time of year as the trees lose their leaves and we get ready for the coming winter is probably a good thing because it reminds us that while the birth in Bethlehem may be seen as the beginning of our new life with God, the crucifixion is not the end. In fact the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus becomes the new beginning for the people of God. It puts us once again at a place where we are living life in the middle. All of life is truly lived in the middle, is it not? Each of us has a moment of birth and each one of us will have a moment of death. Along the way we will experience other moments of significance but most of our life will be lived in the middle. And even though we focus so much of our attention to moments in the life of Christ, it is that life in the middle that really gives meaning to everything that happens at the beginning and at the end. It is all the encounters Jesus has with people as he journeys through the land and it is all the lessons he imparts through different situations that shapes and gives meaning to his coming into this world and his departure from this world. Taken in isolation, the moment of his birth would simply stand as a fact in history just as any other fact. His death would simply stand as a statistic recorded in a book of ancient writings. His resurrection might not have even made an impact. After all, if all Jesus was remembered for was being born and dying, his story would be not unlike the story of anyone else who walked the earth. What gives real meaning to his life and his death and even his resurrection is the life he lived in the middle – the life he shared with those who were living their middles with him. And as much as the coming season of Advent and Christmas may give us warm fuzzies and fill us with a sense of hope and mystery; as much as our reflection on the crucifixion of Christ may give us shudders as we reflect on the cruelty of that act; it is only as we live our lives between and around these events that we will find real meaning and purpose. We need to remember the season of Advent and Christmas throughout the year just as we need to remember the season of Lent and Easter. There needs to be a middle - a connection between the seasons from both sides. That is why we have this reading from John. But what of our reading from Revelation? This reading is the beginning of a most curious letter. It stands in the genre of literature known as Apocalyptic which simply means literature that speaks of a future time or end time. It paints a picture of what the future will be for the people of God and the world in general. But the Revelation of John is different in that it does not just speak of future things; it also very clearly speaks about the present. John ties together present and future as he addresses the seven churches in Asia. He does this because he knows that while the people in the churches have a future hope that they are looking for and preparing to receive, they also need to be fully alive in the present time. They cannot simply sit back and wait for the second coming of Jesus to put all things right. They need to recognize and live their life in the middle. Their middle is like our middle for them; like us they lived in that time between the resurrection of Jesus and the second coming. They faced the daily, weekly and even yearly challenges of life as Christians expecting the coming of the Lord. Perhaps they lived with even more expectation as the last words of Christ seemed to herald a quick return. But even they were beginning to become weary of waiting. As humans we can only hold our excitement for so long. Have you ever been part of a surprise party? Gathering for the event in order to surprise someone you know well can be a wonderful thing but if the person gets delayed for too long, the excitement can begin to fade and we can even lose interest. John knows that life has lost its excitement for the people in the churches. The expectation of Christ’s return has been so anticipated that they were on high alert. But time has been passing and nothing has happened. How to keep the excitement going? All John can do is to encourage them to keep the faith, to keep believing that their commitment to God in Christ is not in vain. He encourages them to maintain their hope for Christ’s return by reminding them that the love of God in Christ is ever there. He encourages them by reminding them that they are a part of God’s kingdom and that even though the time seems long, they should not lose hope. Using the Greek alphabet – which they all would be familiar with – he reminds them that as alpha stands at the beginning of the alphabet and Omega stands at the end, so Jesus who is the very creative Word of God from the beginning of time is also the same Word of God that will be there at the end. The life they live in their middle is bookended by God Himself in Jesus Christ. It is for them to live their lives in the middle assured that the same God who began all things will be there at the end of all things. They are to be assured that the same God who appeared in this latter time as a child in Bethlehem living, teaching, and healing is the same God who will come again. He is the Alpha and the Omega; he is the beginning and the end; but he is also the middle. He will be with us through it all so that we can live our lives now in the middle of this time with hope and strength and grace! AMEN.
Bible Text: Hebrews 10: 11-14, 19-25 and March 13: 1-8 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp The letter to the Hebrews is filled with much imagery that comes from the people of Israel and their places of worship and worship practices. For us today these practices and the buildings in which they were offered seem an eternity away from where we are today. Even if we read about the Temple in Jerusalem and learned something of the rituals practiced in the Temple, I am sure that it never really made a great impression on us as something that was vital to helping us understand what God’s incarnation in Christ meant and how that forever changed the rituals of faith. Over the centuries religious practice among the people of Israel had evolved from a simple tent to a permanent temple. The people had gone from finding God wherever they wandered to believing that the presence of God resided in one place and that was in Jerusalem. And even though the exile had shown them that God could indeed be found anywhere, there was still the strong belief that only in Jerusalem could God be properly and fully honoured and worshiped. Jerusalem was the heart of the faith. It was the royal seat of the kings of Judah and it was the place where the High Priest – the most important religious leader of the people – resided. Along with the other priests and servants, the High Priest presided over and was responsible for the religious life of the people. It was his responsibility to ensure that all things were done decently and in good order and that God would remain the ally of the people. To that end, the people would come and make their sacrifices according to the prescriptions laid down in the law as they sought to honour God and pray that God would remember them and protect them. And while the offering of sacrifices to God was a daily ritual, there was one day on which the nation would ask for forgiveness from God for its sins individually and collectively. This day is the Day of Atonement. That day is still kept by Jewish people. I remember my friend Larry telling me of this day and how he was expected to visit everyone against whom he had sinned and ask for their forgiveness. In the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, this was the one day of the year that the High Priest could enter into what was the inner sanctum of the Temple – the Holy of Holies. On that day the High Priest and only the High Priest – provided that he was free from all blemishes himself – on that day he would go behind the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Temple and offer a special sacrifice on the behalf of the nation. The hope was that the sins of the past year would be forgiven and a new year could begin with a clean slate. But as often as the people made their sacrifices and as often as the High Priest visited the Holy of Holies on an annual basis, the people and the nation never felt that full assurance that indeed their sins were forgiven and that all was right between them and God. As close as they may have felt to God, there still was this gap. And when we consider that the High Priest needed to be physically perfect before even he could begin to ritually ask for the people’s sins to be taken away, we begin to understand how people could believe that only our perfection could bring us into the presence of God. But the author to the Hebrews reminds the people of an event connected to the death of God in Christ. On the day of the crucifixion, at the moment of death, it is said that the curtain in the Holy of Holies was torn apart. For the first time anyone could look into the Holy of Holies. That place wherein only the High Priest had been able to enter to stand in the presence of God now was open to all. The author to the Hebrews reminds the people that the torn curtain was a sign that no longer would there be a barrier or division between God and the people. No longer would the people need an intermediary to seek forgiveness for their sins. In fact the people could now be assured not only of the forgiveness of their sins for today and even this year but forgiveness of their sins for eternity. But it wasn’t just the act of forgiveness that was signalled by the tearing of the curtain. It was a sign that God was no longer to be feared but to be embraced. It was a sign that God was no longer distant and isolated from the people but that now the people could gaze on the glory and face of God and live. Those who had been alive and met God in Christ as He walked on the earth and even those who had not met God in Christ in that time could be assured not only of the forgiveness of God for their sins, not only be assured that God loved and cared for them but they could also be assured that they could approach to the very throne of God without fear and look on His face and live. Certainly this was a great revelation to a people who for so long had felt God to be anything but close and loving. The relationship which was now open to them was one in which they could see God as a loving parent, as a good friend, as a trusted companion. All the barriers between them were gone. They were now invited to enter into that most inner place where God was thought to dwell and encounter a Person whose true heart was one of love and mercy. That’s the truth which the author to the Hebrews is seeking to impress upon the readers of his letter. But it seems that many of them have lost the vision of what God had done in Christ. They had begun to doubt that it was real and their hope that truly God had accomplished an everlasting forgiveness of sin had begun to wane. Many of them had begun to question the value of their weekly meetings for worship. Their community and their lives were losing purpose and meaning. Hold on, says the author; hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. When our life in Christian community becomes simply keeping the faith, doing the ritual, maintaining the shell, we lose the real reason for why we are here. Certainly we are here for ourselves but we are also here for one another. We are here to reveal the love of God to one another. We are here to care for one another, to be kind and merciful to one another. We are here to encourage one another as we seek to live a new life that has come to us from God in Christ. Our challenge is not to just hold on to that new life in Christ but to grasp that gift and live it as best we can knowing that no one of us lives for ourselves. We live for one another. I remember one of the first lessons I learned in choir was this. If you are not singing a solo, you should not be heard above the others. A choir is to be one voice even if it be composed of 10 or 20 or 100 or more. So we in this community are many and yet we too need to be one voice for we share a common faith, a common baptism, and a common life. May God richly bless us as we seek to be a community of His people in this place and may we not just hold on to our faith in God but grasp it and live it in word and action! AMEN
Bible Text: Hebrews 9:24-28 and Mark 12:38-44 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp, Reverend Bruce W. Kemp OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE OF SACRIFICE AND LOVE This is a day that in our churches we set aside as a time of remembrance. It is a tradition that has been maintained for close to 100 years. It is a tradition that saw its beginnings with the end of a war that came to be known as World War 1. Of all the conflicts known to the modern era of history, this was the first war that effectively engulfed the whole world. And while it essentially was fought in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, it changed the landscape of the world. Unfortunately, it did not satisfy all conflict and there have been many wars to follow it. But for large parts of our world today, war is something we read about on our computers and perhaps see images of but have little personal contact. For others – even in our community – war in our present day is something which continues to be very real. And while they may not personally live in the midst of that conflict, they deal with the pain and suffering of those who have chosen to be part of the solution to conflicts in various parts of the world. Often I was asked why a man of the cloth would even consider being a chaplain in the armed forces. For many people it seemed like a contradiction. In their minds, they had images of the chaplain blessing guns and condoning death and destruction; but the reality is far from that. The reality is that the chaplains are there to provide spiritual comfort and counselling to men and women who are asked to face situations that we can never imagine and help them to make sense of the crazy world in which they find themselves. And while as chaplains, we are not allowed to use weapons, we would find ourselves exposed to many of the situations that those who are armed face and may even face many of the same dangers. And so we have taken time this morning to remember not only the sacrifice of those who died in the major conflicts of the past century as well as the conflicts of this century, but to remember all those who came home and have had to live with the memory of what happened to them and to their comrades. We remember the families of those who served and are serving. We remember the civilians caught in the places of conflict, those who have died and those who have lived. As a nation and as a people our responsibility to those who served cannot end when they come home. All of us carry baggage from our lives; our experiences shape who we are and who we become. For those who experience severe traumatic experiences, the baggage can be more oppressive. And just as we know that emotional, mental and physical baggage cannot be just dropped like a sack of potatoes, so for those who served the baggage often hangs on. In our lives as Christians, we carry not only emotional, mental and physical baggage, we also carry spiritual baggage. The interactions that we have as a community of faith bring to us challenges that touch mind, body, heart and spirit. And we can carry that baggage with us from place to place. For many of us we will spend a lifetime trying to find a place to deal with the baggage that we have picked up. One of the struggles we have is finding an appropriate place to unpack that baggage. Nobody likes the experience of opening their suitcase at the airport to repack. Our life is exposed to the world. True enough, most of us will find the same items in all our bags but we may have something different or special, something that we have kept hidden in our bag, something that maybe even those closest to us now have no idea. Unpacking our baggage in a safe place with people we trust is something for which we all hope. What I am speaking about is finding a place and/or a person with whom we can unpack that baggage and begin to lighten our load. When we come to a place of worship, we may have an expectation that we can open our spiritual baggage. We may believe in our heart and mind that this is a place where we can lighten our load and find that peace of spirit that we seek. We may believe that we will be able to find forgiveness and healing for the hurts that we carry. I put it that way because too often our expectations are not reflected in the reality of what we find. In my first congregation there was a lady who was faithful to worship but never attended communion. When I asked her why, she replied that she was not worthy to come to the table because she was not perfect in her life. Often we judge ourselves or others harshly for the sin in our life. We struggle to be perfect but realize all too often that perfection is beyond us. For some this realization ends in despair as they come to believe that they are beyond redemption and that they will ever be known by their sins. The author of the letter to the Hebrews knew all too well the struggles of the people to whom his letter was written. He knew that they were not perfect people and that their struggle to be perfect – as so often they believed they need to be – would lead many of them to despair of any future with God. They feared that God would only love them if they were so perfectly following the lead of Christ. And often we have brought that kind of perfection into our communities. Its effect is often to cause many to turn away from God believing that only when they are perfect will God receive them. If that’s the case, I should never feel the hand of God or the voice of God or the Spirit of God in my life. The author to the Hebrews wants us to reflect on the reality of our lives. We will sin, we will carry baggage but we do not need to despair of our sin or be afraid to reveal our baggage. In Christ God has become the mediator between Him and us. The death of God in Christ was to give us freedom from our sins and hope that we will not be afraid to reveal our baggage to Him and to one another. For many the second coming of Christ is seen as judgment but it is a judgment that people will place on themselves. Our sins have been paid for – not only the sins of those alive in the time of the incarnation but the sins of all those who have come into this world since and who will come into this world until the end of God’s time. The second coming of Christ is to receive those who have committed themselves in this life to loving God and striving to follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so as we remember this day the human sacrifice of life made by those who died and those who survived that we might live in freedom, let us not forget that sacrifice of God in Christ who not only died for us but lives that He may come again to receive us not in judgment but in love. AMEN
Bible Text: Joshua 1 1-11 and Revelation 1: 1-6 | Preacher: Reverend Bob Martin Norman Vincent Peale was one of the gurus of the 1960's, 70's, 80's and even the 90's - if he had lived in the st decade he would have been the Dr. Phil - the darling of the talk shows - as he expounded his belief in the power of positive thinking based on Scriptural principles espoused by Paul - I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and Joshua who heard the word “Be strong, be resolute, do not be fearful or dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua was a man who could see the possibilities in strange places unlike many of the others who only saw the impossibilities. When the Israelites came to the banks of the river Jordan for the first time, Moses sent twelve spies to investigate the land, to examine its strengths and weaknesses and to report on its resources. They all came back with tales of the wonder of the land. They brought back grapes, pomegranates and figs to show the people....but ten of these men spoke of the utter impossibility of it ever being theirs. “The people are giants, the cities are well fortified, they said. It will be impossible for us to take this land and settle in it. Their attitude is typical of a vast section of the population today - both inside and outside the church. They see and magnify the probelms until the impossibilities overwhelm the possibilities and they concede defeat before they have even started. They make mountains out of mole hills.... The other two spies came back from investigating the land and confirmed all the stories of the other ten. But their attitude was different. This is a marvelous land. It is over-flowing with milk and honey. Certainly they were great, tall, strong people but...the taller they are the harder they fall. Let’s get on with it. Two for....Ten against....the people would hear none of it and so they turned back into the desert until a new generation would rise. Joshua and Caleb... This morning I would like us to learn just one thing about Joshua which is supremely important Joshua was a man of faith. He had the promises of God and he believed them. Listen to them: Be strong, be resolute, do not be afraid or dismayed for the Lord your God is with you where ever you may go (1:9) This promise is not only for Joshua. It is for all believers who trust in the Lord. Listen to what God said to Isaiah: Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness. (Isaiah 41:10) Jesus said to the disciples after His resurrection: Go into all the world and preach the Gospell....An d I am with you always, even to the end of the world. These are the verses which we need to hold onto when we are undertaking new ventures, when we are considering frightening prospects or just when we lack confidence. Crossing the Jordan was a great test of the faith of the people. It was the eastern border f Canaan - the Promised Land. Some have used it in hymns and in preaching to equate Jordan with death and Canaan with heaven. But Canaan was not heaven - a land flowing with milk and honey - yes - but also a land of strife and blood shed and warfare - which it continues to be to this day. Can you imagine his horror on the appointed day when he found that the usually placid river was a roaring torrent (3:14). What should he do? Put off the crossing until the river went down? Common sense demands it. But faith and common sense do not always go hand in hand. After all, Paul says God chose the foolish of the world to confound the wise. Joshua had a vision. He had a positive outlook. Much of what restrains us today is lack of faith. We are afraid to do something new, something different, something innovative. When we have a vision - what do we do with itÉ For years there were great slag heaps of spent shale surrounding our villages in Scotland. Then someone had an idea - a vision. And they went to the Scottish Oils and offered the 100,000 pounds - a lot of money back in the 70's - and that person then began to market the slag. It was ideal for road beds. A branch line was built from the Edinburgh - Glasgow railway. Soon the bings were gone and he was rich. A special gun was built to fire pellets of seeds mixed with fertilizer into the slag which could be reclaimed and now they have disappeared under grass and bushes and trees. When we hear the voice of God saying ”Go and I will be with you” – we are not willing to take that step in faith and we are not always faithful to our calling as Christians. We may sing “Be Thou my Vision” but we do not want to act upon it. Be strong, be resolute, do not be afraid or dismayed for the Lord your God is with you where ever you may go. Joshua was no superman. Listen to the promise: Be strong - he knew weakness... Be resolute - he wavered... Do not be afraid - he knew fear.... Do not be dismayed - he certainly needed encouragement. All his life had been a preparation for this moment when he would put the vision into action and make it a reality - just as Moses' life had been up until his confrontation with the Pharoah...Jesus spent 30 years in training, if you like...in the home of Mary and Joseph...experiencing what it was to be truly human...Paul's learning and education...Joshua had learned to be a man of faith. He chose the way of faith and having made his decision he marched the people down into Jordan. The instructions were quite clear “when the priest who are carrying the ark touch the water with their feet the river will stop flowing....” So what do you follow - faith or common sense? I believe that God speaks the same words to us: Be Strong. We have the Holy Spirit - the Strengthener.... Be Resolute in your faith - have we ever known God to fail?""" Faith is something very wonderful - it is Godès gift to you - not to keep but to share, to give away. That is why it is so important to speak with God day by day, to consult with Him and take seriously the guidance we receive from Him. Joshua 1:9 Be strong, be resolute, do not be fearful or dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. And especially to hear the words “Do not be fearful or dismayed for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”. Remember also the words of God to Isaiah “fear not for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God.” This surely is the crux of the matter "I am your God.'