Bible Text: Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 & Mark 10:2-16 | Preacher: Reverend Bruce W. Kemp Over the last number of centuries we have grown accustomed to meeting in buildings constructed to the glory of God. These buildings have been designed to reflect the symbols of our faith and to draw our attention to the heavens. And while the shape of these buildings vary from rectangular to round, they are often filled with intricate woodwork and stained glass windows designed to focus our minds on the life of Christ and to remind us of the sacrifice made on our behalf. In fact the buildings are designed to encourage us to see the space as holy space. Any church building – from the simplest country church to the most ornate cathedral – any one of them can evoke a sense of the divine to the person who truly seeks to find God. Moreover our buildings are filled with structures to highlight the specific rites and practices that mark our faith. The baptismal font is ever present in most churches. In some it takes a place of especial prominence. Its place reminds the believers of that moment when they decided to dedicate their lives to God. If their baptism was as infants, the font would remind them of the faith which they had known all their lives and which they had affirmed when they made their formal declaration and commitment. The communion table for us takes a central place in our buildings. It is a simple table designed to remind us of that first last supper that Jesus shared with those first disciples. And while others have chosen to place altars as a sign of the sacrifice of God in Jesus Christ, we have chosen to focus on the communal sharing of a meal. Our table is simple for it is not the table itself that makes the sacrament so special or the elements that are placed upon it for our consumption but rather it is the presence of the One who calls us to come to this table and it is the remembrance of what the elements symbolize. Remember that that first table in that upper room held no magic. It was not made of special wood or endowed with a special blessing. It was a table. What made it special was what was put upon it and even then it was the meaning with which those elements were imbued. Another structure that is prominent in most of our churches is the pulpit. Often larger churches will have both a pulpit and a lectern. The lectern is the place from which the Scriptures will be read. In many communities, the Gospel reading will be read with the congregation standing. The reading of the Word of God has ever been with us. The Jewish synagogues always included the reading of the Word of God and we continue that practice today. Many of us use the Revised Common Lectionary to guide our year. The lectionary encourages us to explore all the parts of the Bible and to ever remain acquainted with the history of the people of God and to be reminded of the struggles they went through as they sought to live their lives with God. The reading of the Word of God can be powerful in and of itself. When we ask God to open our minds and hearts to the words contained in the Scriptures, we are seeking to learn the lessons of life that God desires us to know and discover how we can make them an active part of our daily life. I would encourage all readers in worship to not feel that you need to rush through the readings. Take the time to enjoy it. It will aid all of us in hearing the words and pondering them in our hearts and minds. For many of our churches, it seems strange perhaps that the pulpit is higher than the communion table. There are many good reasons for this. Primary of course was the need for the preacher to be seen and heard by all who were in attendance. Modern day microphones have largely eliminated that need. But there also was the sense that the Word of God was critical to the faith of the people. The preaching on the Word of God has been and continues to be a vital part of our worship experience. Even more so, it was the major part of the worship experience when the singing of hymns was not as prevalent as it is today. Today our worship experience is rich with song and special music. Perhaps there are some who feel that the minister needs to talk for at least 15 minutes to make the time here worthwhile but it should be all the elements of the worship experience combining to provide us - as a community – with the strength and encouragement to go out from here to live our lives as the people of God and to seek to be servants by responding to the needs we find around us. And so we are surrounded here in this place with a space that has been dedicated to the glory of God and filled with symbols that remind us of our relationship to our God. But is this what is meant by our life in the house of God? The house of God is an ancient term used by the people of God for centuries. It was a way for people to be able to relate to God. After all, they had houses, so it only made sense that God would have a house. But they also knew that their houses were mobile. Remember that the first people to come to know God in the time of Abraham were wanderers taking their sheep and goats wherever they could find water and grass. They gave no thought to a permanent dwelling place. And so for them the house of God was not in one fixed place. The house of God was wherever they were for they knew that God was with them always. When the first temple was constructed, that was the first time that the people came to believe that there was one house in which God dwelt. Of course, this caused great distress to the people when the exile occurred because they felt that God would not be able to find them because He was in His house in Jerusalem. Yet they came to understand that while God may be in the temple, He was also with them in their exile. Perhaps we too have come to believe that God can only be found in the places we have constructed. Perhaps we have come to believe that our life in the house of God is within these walls. But the reality is that our life in the house of God is far larger than this place. For the house of God is the heavens, it is the universe, it is the creation that we see and the creation we cannot even glimpse. Our life in the house of God is the life we live day by day. And wherever we walk, whatever we are doing, whomever we encounter, we are ever in the house of God!
Bible Text: Proverbs 3:1-6, Hebrews 10:19-25 and Luke 10:38-42 | Preacher: Speaker: Donna McIlveen Stir the Pot Thank you for the invitation to be with you on this, St. Andrew’s anniversary Sunday. Anniversaries are a great time for celebration and that’s what is happening today. It is good to celebrate – to come together, brothers and sisters in Christ, together in worship – to make a joyful noise to the Lord…as the Psalmist puts it…for the Lord is good and his steadfast love endures forever. On days like today we look back over the years and remember gatherings, other special occasions, and of course the people who we shared them with. Anniversaries though not only provide an opportunity for reflection on the past, but remind us to look around, to give thanks to the Lord our God who has gathered us here today, and to look down the road as a congregation, encouraging one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. As we look back we know that throughout the years this congregation has been a place where many families have gathered to worship…to pray…to sing…to study…and to enjoy fellowship together. Families have gathered for baptisms…for weddings…and for funerals. Some of those memories are shared by just a few people…others by many families. Some memories are precious…some bring a tear…a sigh…and some bring a smile to your face. But whether the memory is special for one or many…the link for all memories is that they are a part of the story of St. Andrew’s…a branch of the fellowship of Christ’s people. And if it was not for Christ, we would not be gathered here this morning. If it were not for Christ’s death and resurrection we would not be here. It is not what we have done in the past…as good as those deeds were. It is not our relationships with one another…as cherished and as caring as they are. It is Jesus Christ that has loved us and chosen us and given us life…and without him this building is nothing but an empty shell. But thank God, this building was built with the desire to share the gospel message in this community… and that it was built with Christ as its cornerstone…and it is Christ’s message that continues to be its reason for being today. And we must not forget that. The words we read earlier from Proverbs remind us to not forget. “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Trust in the Lord. In all ways acknowledge him. Words that we should heed as we look down the road. We know that the road a congregation travels is not always easy. The challenges of being a congregation today are many. It is easy to become discouraged. But the challenges of being the church are certainly not new. Read through the New Testament letters and you quickly see the many challenges that the early church faced…way back when. And even in the Presbyterian Church in Canada there are challenges. I found an old article that speaks to some of those challenges…challenges that even 100 years ago, congregations faced. The following article appeared in the April 1910 edition of the Presbyterian Record. The article bemoans the trend towards a lack of religious obligation. “Escaping from God would fittingly paraphrase the notion that some people… especially young people… seem to have… if one may judge from their lack of any evident feeling of religious obligation… when, on week end parties… they spend Sunday in the country. There is nothing more startling to any thoughtful… not to say religious observer… than the way in which Sunday is being made a day of strenuous pleasure taken by ‘Saturday to Monday’ city people invading quiet country haunts or lakeside watering places, with noisy disregard to the hours of the day of rest and worship.” So even a hundred years ago, church attendance was a concern… and the distractions of other activities being undertaken on Sunday… and the misplaced priorities of the youth… my goodness that all sounds so familiar. If only stores weren’t open on Sunday… if only hockey practices were scheduled for other times than Sunday morning… if only people didn’t head off to the country and make Sunday a day of strenuous pleasure as apparently was the case 100 years ago… if only… then our churches would be filled. 100 years ago the expectation was that people would just come to church. They would attend the church of their fathers and forefathers. Church buildings were geographically located so that they people could get to them with horse and buggy. Times have changed, and no longer is the church building the focal point of a community. And for some it is not a part of life at all. How many of you have heard of the ‘Nones’? Not ‘nun’…but ‘none’. The Nones are the non-religious, who when asked to identify the group they belong to, they opt to tick the box for ‘none’. According to the Pew Research Council in the USA, 1/3 of adults under the age of 30 identify themselves as ‘nones’. In Canada, the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences states that one in four adults declare no religious affiliation. The reasons are varied, including bad experiences and negative undertones, but for some they simply just don’t see any need of it. They haven’t totally thrown out belief in God, but don’t want the trappings…the perceived negative trappings…associated with organized religion. The nones are known as believing without belonging. Or as one writer put it, rather than referring to the group as ‘nones’ we should say ‘somes’…for some of the nones are seeking more. They are caring and compassionate, but they just aren’t participating. Diana Butler Bass in her book “Christianity After Religion” calls this trend ‘participation crash’. There is a weariness with the institutional church. The church – whether it means to or not – is driving away those who care about the faith but have grown to dislike the organized church. If the current trend continues, today’s church will be remembered not for evangelizing the world but for creating the largest religious group known as the ‘nones’. Well that’s a bit of a downer message for an anniversary service. Or is it? The church is Christ together with his people. All people. The gospel message that the church proclaims is for all people. The challenge for the church is to keep its focus on Christ and the gospel message. Too easily the church gets distracted by many things. Just like in that wonderful, challenging gospel story of Martha and Mary. Not a traditional anniversary reading, but a story that reminds us to keep focused on the better part. When looking at the story of Martha and Mary, we often see it as a story about the merits of doing or not doing tasks. Of action versus contemplation. But we know that there is merit in action and merit in contemplation. Both are important. And Jesus never says to Martha, your gift of hospitality…of stirring that pot of soup…is not important. His words to Martha are said in response to her words of judgment against Mary and the implication that Jesus himself didn’t care that Martha was left to stir the pot all by herself. Martha was weary of stirring the pot…and her weariness distracted her from the reason she was stirring the pot in the first place. Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. She saw that he was tired and hungry and so she went to prepare some food for him. But her gift of hospitality went from being an offering to a chore when she looked at her sister Mary…then put her expectations onto Mary…and then finally told Jesus to tell Mary what for. With every passing moment Martha was becoming more and more resentful of her sister Mary… and rather than ask Mary herself, she asks Jesus to intervene. From Martha’s perspective Jesus should have seen that she was becoming overwhelmed and then responded to her need by telling Mary to stop sitting there and do something useful. She wanted Jesus to get on Mary’s case. Why Jesus can’t figure it out is beyond Martha’s reasoning at the time and instead of asking Mary directly, she goes to Jesus and says: “Can’t you see what’s happening here! Do something about it. Lord, don’t you care?” Martha was tired of stirring the pot…and so rather than stir the pot of soup she was cooking…she decided to stir the pot of resentment. But Jesus doesn’t do her bidding for her. Jesus doesn’t tell Mary to get up and go help her sister Martha in the kitchen. Nor does Jesus scold Martha. What he does is gently correct her. He says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” The one necessary thing was fellowship with Jesus. Time with Jesus… listening to him… and Jesus was not going to take that away from her. When we think that the better part is what we are doing, and the accolades we will receive from doing…over and above who we are doing them for…then we have not chosen the better part. The busyness is a distraction from the better part. As the writer of Hebrews put it: “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” The better part is not judging the actions of others by how we would act and then by extension putting that action…or lack of action…on another. The better part is keeping the focus and remembering why we stir the pot. How does the writer of Hebrews put it: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Provoke. Not usually a positive word. Nor is stir the pot usually used in an encouraging way. Provoke…stir the pot…and do so, not with distraction, but with encouragement to love and good deeds. Provoke one another to love and good deeds. Stir the pot to love and good deeds. Encouragement is a powerful tool that we should embrace as Christians. I believe that encouragement can transform the church and our relationships in amazing ways. Way back when the letter to the Hebrews was written, encouragement was at a short supply. The people had become discouraged and default setting was to not bother showing up for worship. If you read further on the 10th chapter you get a pretty good sense that life as a Christian had been anything but easy. The congregation had endured abuse…persecution…suffering…and the loss of property…and now they were plain weary. They were weary in well-doing. They were weary of the demands put upon them. They were weary of following the Christian way. And in their weariness they started to drift away. They started to neglect their faith. And as the years went by the weariness grew. The early church had challenges. The church today has challenges. But when we keep the focus on Christ and Christ’s message. When we stir the pot to love and good deeds…then we are heading in the right direction. On this anniversary Sunday as we reflect on the church…as we remember the stories…and we ponder the challenges…I want you to look around this sanctuary. Today the pews are full. But we know that is not always the case every Sunday. My challenge to you today…on this anniversary Sunday…is to take time this week to pray asking God to bring someone to mind who you can then invite to church. Perhaps that person is a ‘none’ or a ‘some’. Invite them to church…for worship…for fellowship. Invite them to come and see. Invite them to come and be a part of this community. They will be every bit as much of a part of our congregation as we are…if we invite them in. Some will come without any church background. Some will come with a church memory from childhood. Some will come from different faith traditions. Some will challenge us to stretch ourselves…to see the world through different eyes. Some will challenge us to change…if we let them. It is not up to us to grow the church. But it is up to us to plant the seed…and water the soil. As the apostle Paul put it so well when writing to the Church in Corinth: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.’ God gave the growth. So as we celebrate St. Andrew’s anniversary this day…may we all rejoice in the blessings of God. Blessings that God has poured out on this congregation over the years. And as we move into the future, may God continue to bless this congregation as we stir the pot of love and good deeds, doing so always in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: James 3:13-4:3 AND Mark 9:30 - 37 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp, Reverend Bruce W. Kemp HOW TO BE A GREAT PERSON One of the greatest struggles we have as people and as people of the Word is how to live a life that honours God but also soothes our ego. Everyone seeks to be recognized and acknowledged for their contributions to the life of the community here in this place as well as in our homes, our places of employment, our social clubs and with our friends. Being recognized and acknowledged as having value and worth is critical to our well-being. But too often we either boldly assert ourselves over others so that our value will be acknowledged or we retreat in abject humility to a place where any value or worth we may contribute to the community becomes muted or even ignored. Becoming a great person, though, is neither about being so humble as to never allow us to feel any pride in our abilities or talents nor is it about being so bold as to believe that we possess talents and abilities unrivalled anywhere in the world. Becoming a great person is about finding our place within the community and allowing others to encourage us as we encourage them to share our lives together. God seeks for us to find fulfilment in life but not at the expense of another person. When Jesus speaks to the disciples and tells them to be first you must be last, he is reminding them that the greatest among them will be the one who is willing to recognize and acknowledge the value and worth of those around them. The world in which we live encourages us to be bold in our dealings with one another. We are encouraged to look out for ourselves, to grab the bull by the horns, to be aggressively assertive, and to promote ourselves. Certainly there is nothing wrong with sharing with one another our vision for the life of our community and how we may be able to make contributions but we are to be conscious of how our thoughts, words and actions may impact the life of someone in the community who is not as sure of themselves or who feel that they have less to contribute. And who does Jesus look to when he is seeking for an example of how the disciples can start on the path to greatness? He points to a child. He then takes the child and places the child in the midst of them and then takes the child into his arms. The child probably has the least ability to make a difference in the world at that moment but for Jesus this child represents the very heart of greatness. To have the ability to see, acknowledge, accept and love a child whose life is just beginning opens us up to see, acknowledge, accept and love those whose lives have been lived and influenced in ways that will bring challenges to us. If we cannot take time for them, we probably will not be willing to take time for others. If we think ourselves too good or too important or too great to bother with a child, chances are we will think ourselves too good, important or great to bother with anyone else whom we may feel are beneath us. It is a fact of our human existence and dilemma that even though we will acknowledge our God and the physical presence of God in Jesus Christ as the greatest person among us, we will still seek to know who comes second, third, fourth and so on. Somehow we need that pecking order. In the letter that the apostle James wrote, we find that Jesus’ words concerning greatness are still a struggle for the people. It seems that everyone in the community wants to be seen as the most important. People were seeking to become teachers in the community but without the necessary skill and aptitude. People were boasting of their faith in God but not showing it in practical ways. In a real sense, people had lost the heart of wisdom. Wisdom is not just a matter of knowledge. People can have great knowledge but lack wisdom. Wisdom is about knowing how to apply knowledge in such a way as to truly encourage and teach others the lessons of life as God has given them. How often we want to share our knowledge or experience. We want others to know how knowledgeable we are. We fear someone else might be seen as having more knowledge or a greater experience than ourselves and we will not be valued. But remember the wisdom of Solomon who knew so well that a wise person often says little while a fool will run on at the mouth. Someone once said that he didn’t like silence. He said it was like death but silence is fuller of meaning than we may imagine. In silence we can observe movement, we can hear breathing, and we can feel our heart. But silence scares us. It scares us because we are so surrounded by the sound of traffic and commerce that the idea of being silent is to us a void. It seems to be an empty place that we need to fill but in truth that so-called empty place is fuller than anything we may imagine. It is a place where God can be heard, where he can be felt and where we can touch and be touched. In this passage, James does not tackle all the issues that cause us to struggle with what it means to be great people of God but he does touch on a number of them. He begins by cautioning us against a wisdom that encourages bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. Such wisdom brings disorder to our community life as a Christian congregation and disorder to our life in general. When we become jealous of the abilities or talents of others, we can find ourselves seeking for ways to derail them and promote ourselves instead. We can find ourselves working to bring division within the community and so disrupt its life and peace. He then points to the wars and fights that he sees. He knows too well that the jealousies we feel come from our desire to have something we can’t or to be someone we cannot be. He recognizes that we all struggle with finding our place in the community and recognizing the gifts and talents and abilities of one another. When such things become all-consuming, the community is in grave danger of dissolution. Even more, he would say, we are at risk of losing the vision and goal of our faith and life and descending into an abyss of self-promotion and aggrandizement. To counteract this tendency within us, he encourages us to seek for the real wisdom of God. He tells us that such wisdom is pure, that is, it is untainted by the jealousies that afflict us for it seeks to honour the life of all. Further he adds that such a wisdom is peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. The true wisdom of God that we are to seek for and practice in our life will not desire to cause war and strife but will desire to find peace for mind, body and spirit. It will desire to gently instruct and persuade rather than be heavy-handed. It will be open to reason for it will be willing to listen to the thoughts and ideas of others and see whether there is any truth and any good in what is being suggested. The ideas and thoughts of others will not be summarily dismissed. The true wisdom of God will be full of mercy for it will not seek to condemn but to inform and teach and it will be a wisdom that will not be seen as temporary or fleeting nor will it be easily shaken. It will be a wisdom that can be trusted. We can be certain of what we believe and express it in a firm yet gentle way. We can be sincere in what we believe and yet reveal that we are open to listen. We can be great people without being dominating or domineering. After all, no one of us is perfect. Every one of us will make mistakes. How we deal with our mistakes and the mistakes of others will reveal whether our wisdom is of God or of man. Remember the words of Paul in speaking of Jesus. He reminded the people in Philippi that Jesus was above every other creature in creation. In other words, he is the greatest person to ever walk on the earth yet he did not celebrate his greatness by lording it over others. Instead he emptied himself of all vanity and self. He put himself in the position of one who serves, of the lowest in the pecking order. His greatness came not from people looking to him to worship him but from him looking at people with compassion and mercy. Who among us will be remembered as the greatest? Perhaps we will never find the answer. Perhaps we should never seek to be that person but each of us can be a great person by striving to encourage, uplift and forgive others, by recognizing the heart and life of others in the community and by bringing peace and sincerity to others through words and actions.
Bible Text: Genesis 22:P 1-47 and ?St. John 3: 10-21 | Preacher: Reverend Bob Martin Genesis 22: lf God tested Abraham John Calvin said “ ..this passage contains the most memorable narrative. For although Abraham, through the course of His life, gave astonishing proof of faith and obedience, ................. this inflicted a wound far more grievous than death itself: .......... paternal grief and anguish which being produced by the death of an only son, .......... torn away by a violent death, but by far the most grievous that he himself should be appointed to slay him with his own hand.” That just about sums it up for us - does it not? It was and is a shocking, brutal and harsh story which leaves us startled and amazed when we read it. We are startled that God would demand such a thing' We are amazed that Abraham would acquiesce, that he would get up early in the morning to do this terrible thing which God had asked. We look on with incredulity as Isaac was bound and laid on the altar. Abraham and Sarah had been living in the land of Canaan. In their old age they had accumulated wealth, prestige and power. They even entered treaties with the people. Life was good and tranquil. Isaac was growing tall and strong and Ishmael was already married to an Egyptian woman. More than that, Abraham was growing in faith and spiritual stature. Already he recognized God as “the Almighty'' in giving answer to the question "is anything too hard for the Lord?" At Beersheba he recognized God as "the Eternal God." The One we describe as being the same yesterday, today and forever - unchanging and unchangeable' In this situation of peace and tranquility he receives this shattering command: take your son, your only son Isaac whom you love .... sacrifice him as a burnt offering .." The Scriptures tell us that this was a test. A test can do one of two things: it can strengthen or it can destroy. Calvin points out that Abraham had been tested before but that these tests were for his mortification ie. for his discipline and strengthening. In the manufacturing process of motor vehicles ..... tested to destruction .... But Paul tells us that "no temptation has seized you except what is common to man. God is faithful and will not ret you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But, when you are tempted He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Cor. 10: 13) Genesis 22: lf God tested Abraham Now to us this seems to be an extraordinary temptation. Yet when we think that Abraham had been living for a long time in the land of Canaan where the people were accustomed to human sacrifice and where men did sacrifice their first born sons to their gods as sin offerings, this idea was not new to Abraham. Nowhere in the scriptures up to the point do we read of human sacrifice being specifically prohibited, yet in the light of what Abraham had experienced of God as the Almighty and the Eternal the whole idea must have seemed incredible and repugnant. Isaac represented: A beloved son Isaac : laugher - this was where it hurt most - the child of his old age. 2The fulfilment of promise Now what was Isaac's part in all this? Noah’s children and their trust in their father ........... First, we have to come back to Abraham and say that his spirit of faith had passed on to his son He had been to worship with his father before. He had seen the sacrificial animals being herded towards the altar and as they traveled with Isaac carrying the wood he asks innocently "father, here is the wood and the fire but where is the lamb for the burnt offering." And Abraham replied "God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering." I wonder - how much of this was an answer to pacify Isaac and how much was a response in faith in the promise "through Isaac your offspring will be reckoned." as Abraham wrestled with the ideas of God as Almighty and as Eternal? Secondly we have to note the submission of Isaac. There is no way in which this old man could have bound this young fellow and lifted him onto the altar without his submission and co- operation. Thirdly, can you imagine Isaac's last memory of his father as a priest standing with arms raised clutching a knife. At that very moment God spoke again to Abraham. The test was over. He had passed with flying colours. God said "Now I know that you fear God." And as Abraham looked round, there was a ram caught in the bushes by its horns. As Calvin said, it is a memorable passage in the Scriptures. It is also a passage of Scripture which creates more problems for us the longer we study it. But putting aside the problems, the narrative tells us two things: Genesis 22: lf God tested Abraham the first is that God will from time to time shake us from our complacency and that He will make demands upon us which we feel are totally unreasonable but our God is a challenging God. He will make us question the way things have always been down, He will make us examine our beliefs as Abraham was forced to examine his ..... , He will make us turn around as did Paul .... Secondly, out of this story we have the great doctrine of substitution which found its fullest expression on Calvary. Abraham's conviction was that God Himself would provide the sacrifice was fully realized when the ram appeared On Calvary Jesus is our substitute. He died in our place and to take away our sin. He bore our penalty and paid the price. We are told that God was satisfied and the work of redemption was finished. The doctrine of substitution is widely practiced today. There are times when substitution is not a bad thing and may even be necessary but mostly it is a poor solution. It is better to have the real thing. We substitute money for time as we try to buy our children's affection. We substitute words for action. We substitute good intentions for good works. We substitute talking for listening. We substitute "getting by''for excellence. We substitute soap operas for real living. We substitute instant gratification for anticipation. We substitute popular ideas for proven theories. We substitute our own importance for the centrality of God, focussing our thoughts inward ...... We substitute popular theology for that which is based and grounded in the Word of God. We substitute our own ideas and thoughts and feelings for the clear instructions of Jesus. We substitute material for spiritual. We substitute tangible for intangible. We substitute good works for salvation by grace. We substitute our morality for God’s teaching in the Scriptures. We substitute our own merits for the merits of the Lord Jesus. We substitute good wishes for zeal. Why? The substitution is inadequate and totally worthless. Genesis 22: lf God tested Abraham Abraham did not just have good wishes or good intentions he had zeal for the Lord - a love for God that surpassed even his love for his son and we are told that on that dreadful morning he got up early to go to the place of sacrifice .... He had zeal. ln his biography of the young Teddy Roosevelt, David McCullough tells that his mother found out that he was so afraid of Madison square Church that he refused to enter it alone. He was terrified of something called "zeal". It was crouched down in the dark corners of the church ready to spring out at him, he said. When she asked what a zeal might be, he said he was not sure, but thought it was probably a large animal like an alligator or a dragon. He had heard the minister read about it from the Bible. Using a concordance she read to him all the passage containing the word zeal until suddenly, very excited, he told her to stop. The line was from St John 2: l7 "and His disciples remembered that it was written 'the zeal of thine house has eaten me up ....."' People are still justifiably afraid of the zeal of the Lord for they are perfectly aware of its disturbing, challenging life changing potential. Abraham had it, Isaac and Sarah and all his people knew that while the Lord is good He is also challenging and demanding. God Himself has provided the sacrifice, the way of salvation, the certainty of acceptance with Himself. Why do we not, like Abraham, choose the gift that God has given us, claim the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ and put all our trust in Him for time and eternity. There is, after all, only one name given under heaven whereby we must be save and that is the Name of Jesus. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Bible Text: Genesis 6: 11-22 | Preacher: Reverend Bob Martin This morning and next Sunday, I want to share some thoughts about men of the Old Testament period. Some time ago I did a series on the women of the Old Testament Scriptures - now it is the men’s turn and the man’s name is Noah. Reading about his life and work leaves us with ore questions than answers and yet he is the first person in the Scriptures to have any real amount of space devoted to his life and work and the really interesting thing is that when we read about Noah we learn more about God than about Noah. What can we say about this man? Many things - but let me highlight just two of them for you this morning. First, Noah was a Godly man and he came from a family of God fearing people. We are told that one of his forebears was Seth, one of the descendants of Adam and in Seth’s time, the Scriptures tell us, people first began to call on the Name of the Lord. In Genesis 6: 9, we are told that Noah was a just man and perfect in his generation who walked with God. It is interesting to see and important for us to note the influences which families have. We live in an age when families are being fragmented, when out of necessity both parents have to work and so the responsibility for raising their children is left in the hands of child care givers. When I did an exchange in New Jersey many years ago the parents brought their children to a day care centre operated out of the church just after 6 a.m. I remember being first on the scene one day and parents entrusting their children to me - a total stranger. Families do matter ......... We are told that Noah walked with God - just as at one time Adam and Eve walked with God. He spent time every day in prayer - not only talking but listening. Not just on the Sabbath but day by day. George H. W. Bush related in his biography how he made time for prayer ad Scripture reading, how he followed and schedule that enable him to read through the Bible. Many Christians make time each day to walk with God, in the morning to set the tone for the day or in the evening to review the events of the day and give thanks ...... Walking with God implies communion, a deep and intimate spiritual relationship that shapes our attitudes and our perspectives. Walking with God brings changes how we make our decisions. People watch, people see - especially those who are nearest and dearest to us, who live with us day by day. When push came to shove, Noah’s 3 sons: Shem and Ham and Japheth stuck with him. Secondly, Noah was an obedient man. We are told not once but twice that Noah did all that the Lord commanded him. But when the commands are extraordinary, or perhaps even in our own judgement, ridiculous and inexplicable, we can only marvel at his obedience. God said build me a boat and gave him the dimensions: 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 35 feet high with 3 decks, it must have raised many questions for Noah. Where will I build it, how will I build it, it is not even raining ..... Yet with the help of his wife and his sons he set about this monumental task. I don’t know how he accomplished it. In the midst of all this construction work, we are told that he was a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2: 5) and that was an incredible thing in the age when he lived. The Bible tells us that only Noah found favour in the eyes of the Lord - only Noah. That is a hard thing to be as we are finding out in our present again. It is easy to go with the crowd. It is difficult to go against the tide of public opinion. We are called upon to be politically correct, we are called to give in to the rights of the minority at the expense of the majority and not only to approve but to facilitate life styles and practices which we find abhorrent and contrary to our faith. Genesis 6: 11 - 22 Noah When people came to criticize Noah, to make fun of his creation, he used the opportunity to tell them what he believed and what God was saying through him. He urged them to change their ways, to repent and believe. But they did not listen, they made fun of him and his boat became a favourite topic of conversation in the taverns and the market place and wherever people gathered. Noah did not listen to the critics. He knew that they spoke from disbelief and had a vested interest in their life styles. NO doubt after a while people tired of talking about the ark and its builder - until he started buying provisions and collecting animals - especially the more exotic animals ...... As I said at the beginning of the sermon, the study of Noah reveals more about God than about Noah. First, it tells us that our God is a covenant making God The 139th Psalms tells us of David’s insight “where can I go from Your spirit, where can I flee from Your presence? .... if I say ‘surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to You; night will shine like the day......” God doesn’t just see the outward appearance but “He sees the thoughts and the intentions of the heart” (6: 5) Remember when Samuel was sent to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel? .... God said to him “man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on the heart.” Jesus said “it is not what goes in that make one sinful but what proceeds from the heart through the mouth.” God sees, He sees everything. God knows everything - He is omnisient but He is still willing to make covenants with people. A covenant is not simply a legal agreement, it is one which is entered freely, willingly and involves a spiritual dimensions as well as a legal agreement. We speak of a marriage covenant - irrespective of the fact that the prospective bride and groom have in some cases, already made a prenuptial legal agreement. The marriage covenant is one stage further on which if respected would make the mutual agreement irrelevant. God made two covenants with Noah. The first was that if Noah would build the ark, God would save him and his family and secondly, after the flood waters had receded God promised that as long as the earth endured, seed time and harvest, summer and winter would continue and that never again would there be such and immense catastrophe. God made a number of covenants but perhaps the greatest is the one made through the Lord Jesus that “whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Secondly, it tells us that God is a God of grace. Grace is that love which keeps on loving when all cause for love has gone. Grace kept Noah preaching all the time he was building and the people were mocking him ........ but more important, grace was that which, when the ark was completed and the animals and Noah and his family were inside kept the door open for another seven days. Can you imagine Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth and their wives waiting day after day, wondering if after all they had been deluded and all the time waiting, waiting, waiting .. Then, after 7 days, seemingly of its own volition the door of the ark swung shut. Those on the outside couldn’t get in and those on the inside could not get out. Genesis 6: 11 - 22 Noah But there is an end to grace. Isaiah says “seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while he is near, let the wicked forsake his ways and the unrighteous their thoughts and return to the Lord and He will have mercy and to our God for He will abundantly pardon.’ (Isaiah 55: 7) Note that it says “while He may be found.” There is an end to grace. After Paul said that he was persuaded that God is able to keep all that we have committed to Him against that day and that day came for Noah when the door shut and the rain came on. Jesus told the story of the careless bridesmaids who failed to make preparations and when they arrived at the bridegroom’s house, knocked on the door and asked for admission, the bridegroom said “go away, I don’t know you.” Years and years of teaching and exhortation followed by 7 more days of grace ................ He promises that whosoever believed in me shall not perish but have everlasting life, He invites us to come while the door is still open for when He comes again the door will shut. So what does Noah have to teach us today? There are two principal things here and many more if you care to continue the study. The first is that if you are persuaded that you are called by God. It through prayer and study of the Scriptures and the advice of Godly friends and mentors that this is God’s call for you, ignore the critics. Noah continued to build and to pray and to walk with God even though ..... Noah, his wife and is daughters-in-law we safe within the ark ......... Secondly, don’t miss the boat. On the island of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides, so the story goes, one of the large land owners and employers was frequently just on time or just a few moments late for the ferry which would take them to Tarbet on the mainland. Usually the grace period was extended to them - just a few minutes more. One day - perhaps the captain may have had a hang over or was just frustrated or had indigestion - when he came racing over the hill down to the key, the ferry was already under way. In spite of his impassioned pleas, the ferry continued on its way. So the message from Noah is quite simple: hold fast to your faith and don’t delay. God is still calling, still extending the days of grace. There is still time. So get on board.
Bible Text: Deuteronomy 4:1-2 and 6-9 anbd James 1:17-27 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp What does your reflection look like? – James 1:17-27 The letter of James is a short one and is not sent to any one group of people as Paul’s letters are. James is one of the apostles whose Jewish roots are very evident. He is one who wanted to see the new faith remain within the synagogue and be accepted as a new and fuller revelation of the God the people had known throughout their history. And so his letter is sent to all those who came to faith in Christ as Jews and who are living in what came to be known as the Diaspora or Dispersion. Many of the people who lived in ancient Palestine had left the area to pursue business interests or for other reasons. They lived all over the ancient world in small communities. They continued to practice their faith even in these remote places. James wanted to be sure that these communities would ever remain open to receiving new people and he wanted them to present to the community and the world around them a picture of the faith that would draw others to them. He also knew how important it was for the community’s continued existence that they be reminded of how they were to conduct themselves. And so the letter of James focuses on remaining true to the tenets of the faith and even more on how that faith is expressed in the community’s life with one another. In his opening message to the scattered communities, he encourages them to always seek the wisdom of God. The people are not to rely on their own wisdom or strength but to constantly look to God to inform their choices in life and guide them on the path to full life. Further he reminds all in the community that whatever their status in the society outside the community, they are not to bring that status or hierarchy into the community. The lowest in the society and the highest in the society are to find that place where both can be honoured and valued. James believed very strongly that we all stand equal before God and that the prayers of all are heard. Each person, regardless of their position in society, is an equal in the eyes of God and in the community of faith. Whatever path the society around may choose to follow, it is for the community of faith to follow the path of God and to uphold each person. After all, whatever we may amass in this world will ultimately be lost to us but the life we gain in God will be to us an everlasting gain; and that gain is open to all in an equal measure. First of all he encourages us to be quick to hear. It is often said that we have two ears and two eyes because we are to listen and look more than we are to speak. Listening to others and watching them is something that is often hard for people. If someone feels that no one is ever listening to them or really seeing them, they can have the tendency to not be willing to share their thoughts or feelings. And if we are concerned that people will dismiss us if we are not constantly sharing, then we will fail to listen and observe others. What James is seeking for here is for us to learn to listen and observe one another and discover how best to blend our lives in such a way as to respect the life of one another and enable everyone to feel valued in the community; doing this will enable us to be slow or slower to speak for we will be taking the time to consider more carefully what we are to say. What a blessing it would be if we could ever achieve this! James knows it will not be easy but he also knows that the communities can splinter and fall apart if we fail to even try. Of course hand in hand with being slow to speak comes being slow to anger. Anger often arises from an impulsive reaction to something that is said or done; perhaps it comes from a feeling of frustration with a person or situation; perhaps it is something over which we have no control; but our reaction can have disastrous results not only for us but for others and so often it is difficult to put the words back into our mouths and swallow them. I want you to note, though, that James does not say that there will not be times of anger or that anger is totally inappropriate at all times; rather, he is saying that it should not be the first reaction we have. It is his hope that these words of wisdom will save us from putting our feet in our mouths too many times and perhaps save us from tearing our communities apart. He then goes on to remind the people that we need to be more than just hearers of what God asks of us. In other words, when we ask for wisdom, when we ask for patience, when we ask for grace and forgiveness, we need to put such things into action. We can accept all kinds of things in our minds but they must go from our minds to our actions if people are to see that we truly believe in the word of God. James likens it to looking at our reflection in a mirror. If we look at our image and then forget what we look like, we are like people who hear the Word of God and then act in a way that totally contradicts it. But James knows that looking at the law of God like looking in a mirror will never make that law real except that we carry that law of God with us in our mind, heart and spirit just as we carry that image of our face that we see in the mirror. He closes his message in this chapter by speaking to the people about what he really thinks makes a person religious. What makes a person religious is not how often they attend worship or how much money they can give or what status they have in the community; what makes a person religious is when their whole person reflects the image of God. It is when the words of God take root and become real. It is when their faith is more than words or ritual but becomes the pattern of their life. It is when the needs and concerns of the community are heard and responded to. James identifies two things that he sees as true religion. The first was a great concern because there was no social network to care for widows or orphans. The community had to care for them. The second is as true today as then. It is about how we choose to express our faith in our daily life. Today how we express our faith may be different in some respects but it remains essentially the same. We need to look at who we are called to be by God in Christ and then not forget what that looks like as we go into the world as the people of God!
Bible Text: Ephesians 6:10-20 and John 6:60-69 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp The passage of Scripture from Ephesians 6 is one of the most cited passages in all of Paul’s writings. It portrays an image that would make great sense to the people of his day – even more than in our own time. The world in which Paul lived was one in which a military presence was always evident. Unlike our world in Canada, you could go nowhere without seeing at least one soldier in full armour with sword and shield. Many of you have probably visited or know someone who has visited a country in the world today where that reality still exists. And while the soldier in full armour and carrying weapons is often seen as a sign of trouble and aggression, it can also be a source of great comfort in a troubled place. At the time of writing the letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul was a prisoner being transported to Rome for his trial before the Emperor. He was constantly under guard and would daily be seeing at least one soldier in full uniform prepared for battle. In his mind he would have remembered and seen soldiers entering battle and probably witnessed how the soldiers’ weapons enabled them to defend themselves against the attacks of their enemy. And so Paul – as so often he does – finds in the images and situations of his life, examples that he can pull from daily life to encourage and support those who have come to faith in God through Christ. And while that image may not be a constant presence in our daily life, we can still relate well enough to it as we have no doubt read this passage or heard it many times. The first thing we can notice about this passage, though, is that Paul uses the image not so that we will don armour like a soldier or arm ourselves as if to fight a human foe. Paul does not see other humans as the enemy of our faith and life in Christ. While certainly it may appear that those who seek us harm are very human, Paul would assert that it is forces beyond the human that are at work here. All of the words Paul uses to explain these forces are for him ways in which to acknowledge that there are spirits and demons present in the world whose whole reason for being is to disrupt our life with God and cause us to turn away from God. As the Celts acknowledged, evil exists in the world and seeks to pull us away from finding and hearing the heartbeat of God in our life. Evil forces seek to cloud our vision, dull our hearing and generally convince us that God is not real and that His love and grace are not as deep and embracing of our human condition. Our struggles in mind, body and spirit can cause us to lose faith or to doubt the reality of God. We can become convinced that God is either dead or is no longer interested in our well-being. Paul sees these things as attacks of the devil, of the evil forces in the world. However we may think of that which is opposed to God’s hope and vision for this life, we certainly know that there are times when our minds cause us to doubt and to question. There are times when we can be convinced that belief in God and the wisdom of God are not real. In those times of struggle – and without a doubt they will come – Paul knows that the people need support. They certainly need the support of one another and so he encourages them to gather together for prayer, worship and to share their concerns and fears as well as their joys and hopes. But there are going to be times when we will be in a place where there aren’t others around. There will be times when we will be on our own. How are we to protect ourselves in mind and spirit from the attacks on us that can cause us to doubt our decision to live for God? Paul encourages us to think of the soldier. The soldier needs to protect himself from the harm that the enemy would bring upon him. To do so requires him to have certain equipment. He needs a breastplate – a special piece of armour to protect the vital areas of his body. He needs a helmet to protect his head for without a head the body cannot survive. He needs a shield to deflect the arrows and blows of other weapons. He needs protection on his feet to ensure that he maintains a solid footing. But he also needs a weapon to strike back against the aggression that he faces. But Paul does not suggest that we become soldiers like the Roman soldiers. He does not suggest that we should annihilate those who seek to destroy our faith in God through physical violence. He suggests that we prepare for the battle of life by adopting and adapting the imagery of the soldier to ensure that we are prepared to stand firm against any and all attacks on our faith and life. Before we can even put on the armour, we need to ensure that we are able to support our life in Christ and so we use a belt to surround our body with the truth of God. It will hold us firm and enable us to move in the world with a freedom. Then we don the breastplate of righteousness. This is our protection in our most vital areas for this reminds us that it is through Christ Himself that God brings us that perfect peace and forgiveness of sin. The breastplate wards off thoughts that would disturb that peace and sense of forgiveness. With the sandals on our feet, we are encouraged to step forward in faith assured that we need not fear where we go. We wear the helmet of salvation by which we consciously remember that God has placed His hand upon us and blessed us. Through our Lord Jesus Christ we have been granted forgiveness of our sins – not only those past but those present and those future. Now we take up those things which will enable us to ward off attack and meet the challenges of this life. The shield represents our faith. It deflects the attacks upon us. In the days of the Roman Empire, the most common fear was that of the flaming arrows. The Roman shields were designed in such a way as to best be able to deflect and extinguish those arrows. The people would see this as an encouragement to know that whatever was directed at them that their faith could provide a shield and protection. Finally they could take up the sword – the sword of the Word of God. The Word of God would be their constant companion. The words of God would be like a sword for they would become their defence and their hope. Perhaps our daily lives are not so much a battle as those of the Christians in the early days of the church; but we do not know what the future holds. But let us ever remember that preparation and vigilance are needed even in the most innocuous of times and places. It is when we fail to remember the past that we find ourselves unprepared for the future. In closing his letter, Paul writes these words and I am quoting them to you today as we depart from this place to live in God’s world: Peace be to all the [people of God], and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying. (Ephesians 6:23-24)
Bible Text: Ephesians 5:15-20 and John 5:51-58 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp It comes as no surprise to me that there are probably some among you who find today’s passage from John to be quite puzzling. How on earth are we to make sense of the words of Jesus? This passage in which Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life is the end of a long narrative in chapter six of John’s gospel that begins with the feeding of the five. Jesus then seems to disappear only to reappear on the other side of the lake. When the people find him, they wonder how they managed to not see him cross the lake. But to their surprise Jesus instead says to them that they have been looking for him because they were all fed through the miracle of the loaves. Then Jesus encourages them to look beyond the physical to the spiritual. They are to work for the food that never spoils. But they still are focused on the physical miracle and so the challenge to believe in Jesus who has been sent by God the Father does not hold truth for them. They are still seeking a sign. They remembered the manna that God sent which provided food for the people as they passed through the wilderness. In their minds, bread from heaven was still a physical sustenance. And even if Jesus was indeed the new manna, the new bread from heaven for that generation, they still could not imagine that Jesus was the one sent by God from heaven for he was known to be the son of Joseph the carpenter from Nazareth; and as no good thing ever was considered to be capable of coming from Nazareth, the idea that Jesus could indeed be the bread of heaven seemed implausible. Even more so was Jesus’ assertion that this bread of life was his flesh and that his blood. Bread and water are two of the most common of staples for so many people in the world. And while water shortages are a reality for many the idea that we can substitute some other liquid for water does not have a lot of support. Of all the liquids that we have available to us, even if water is the primary ingredient, there really is no beverage that does a body better than water. Water is the only beverage we are encouraged to drink 8 glasses of each day and it is the one beverage that we are so careful about ensuring it is safe and tastes refreshing. When it comes to bread we have far more choice but we choose to find the most nutritious bread to consume. In fact bread and water are probably the two elements which we use for the sustenance of our physical selves that we can’t imagine being without and that we take great care to savor. When the people of Israel were thirsty, God provided water from a rock. When there was no source of food, God provided manna that appeared with the morning dew. Provision for the physical had always been at the heart of the Jewish experience of God and thankfulness for such a provision had ever remained a part of the ritual of the people from the earliest days through the temple period into the exile and right through the time of the restoration and even during the Roman occupation. The challenge that came with Jesus was showing the people that God was not only making provision for physical daily sustenance but that he was making provision for spiritual sustenance. Furthermore, this spiritual sustenance was not just for the duration of this physical time on this planet but it was a sustenance that would take them into a life with God that would have no end. For this bread and water were not just elements from the earth to nourish a present physical need and then be released back to the earth to be drawn forth again; this bread and water were physical in that they could be touched and pondered but spiritual in that they were symbols to draw us into a deeper and more lasting relationship with God. The bread of heaven that Jesus brings to earth is in fact his body for he embodies within him the words and works of God. Symbolically, as we listen to the words of Jesus, as we follow his footsteps, as we study his encounters with people, we ingest the bread of life. It probably never really occurs to us in terms of our relationship to God, but when we learn lessons in school or at home, we are eating life lessons. We are ingesting truths which will guide us through this life. Jesus’ desire for us to share in his flesh as the bread from heaven is for us to understand that we need to ingest the truth of what that God means. Through this ingestion we digest and process in our minds, hearts and spirits what it truly means to be the people of God. Through this we develop our spirits as they are nourished by the words of God in Christ. As the bread of the soil nourishes our physical beings, so the bread of heaven nourishes our spiritual beings. Both are needed for us to live a complete life. And just as water energizes our physical bodies and restores our organs to their full capacity, so the blood of Jesus, the water of eternal life energize our spirits and restore us to that full and lasting relationship with God for which we were created. Jesus describes his flesh as being real food and his blood as being real drink for that which come from God and is given to us for the nourishment of our souls is that which finds our very center, the core of our being and fills a spot in us that no earthly food or drink could ever reach. And the gift of the body and blood of Jesus which we remember when we share in the Lord’s Supper is a tangible reminder to us that God has shared with us a truth that is meant to not only sustain us for as many years as this body may give us but to carry us forward into the future that God assures us is waiting for those who are prepared to eat the bread of heaven and drink the Is this a great mystery? Of course it is but not necessarily one that is like an abyss but rather one that is fantastic and compelling. John is speaking to us not about rules and regulations, moral codes and traditions; rather, he is speaking to us about the essence of life, about the ultimate purpose and destiny of life. He is speaking to us once again about our relationship with God, one that encourages us to listen for and discover for ourselves the Is it a strange thing to imagine eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood? Of course. But to think of deepening our relationship with God by absorbing his words and ways and lapping up his truth so as to be filled with his grace, forgiveness and love, that is a whole other thing. And that is what Jesus is seeking for us to understand! Eat of his body and drink of his blood knowing that through this you are being filled with the knowledge of God, a knowledge that will remain with you both now and forevermore.
Bible Text: Amos 7:7-15 and Mark 6:14-29 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Celtic Spirituality Two Ways of Listening As we come to the end of this exploration of Celtic spirituality, it has become clear that the path chosen by the early Celtic church was not unbiblical; rather, it was not the path adopted by the dominant church tradition. The dominant tradition preferred to base its theology and spirituality on the tradition of St. Peter and the authority which was conferred on Peter by Christ Himself. The theology and spirituality of the Celtic church had taken its lead from St. John. Both paths were valid and biblical but in its push to reveal a united faith, the people of that time chose to see the issue as needing to be decided one way or the other. A little more understanding of each other’s position might have led to a different outcome. And so while the battle in 664 for the hearts and minds of the people came down to a decision for Peter or for John, we in this day and age can recognize the strengths and contributions of each stream and so find a place for both of them as we live our lives today. It is interesting to note that many of the mystical traditions of the Church followed the path of St. John. John was seen as the ultimate guide to the inner self. It is also interesting to note that John Scotus, whom I spoke of in an earlier talk, believed that there was room for both ways. He got in trouble for daring to promote the Celtic way. But he saw John as representing the way of contemplation while Peter the way of faithful action. It is interesting to note that Pelagius never advised people to only a contemplative way of approaching God. He firmly believed that it should issue forth in action. But the emphasis on the interior life and seeking for God within and in creation rather than in the heavens and in the holy places alone is what got him into trouble. Balance between the contemplative and the active is what we should all be seeking for. The strength of the John tradition is that it produces a spirituality that sees God in the whole of life and regards all things as inter-related. John’s way of seeing makes room for an open encounter with the Light of life wherever it is to be found. It is a tradition that is not bound by four walls for the sanctuary of God is to be found within the whole of creation. The strength of the Peter tradition is precisely that it has four walls. It enshrines the light of truth within the Church and its traditions and sacraments. It is a rock, a place of security and shelter, especially in the midst of stormy change. It allows us to turn with faith to the familiar house of prayer where others before us have found truth and guidance. And so to hold these two traditions together enables us to celebrate the sacraments and remember the traditions and teachings of the faith while allowing for the fact that the love and grace of God are not just for those who know God but for every person and every form of life because God is with and in all that has life. Even our own experiences in life have taught us that there are times when we have found God in the light of the morning or evening or the freshness of the wind. Sometimes we need the solitude of a hill to be still and attentive to God while at other times we find the time of communal worship, the celebration of the sacraments, the hymns and prayers a comfort. There is room for both the contemplative and the action, for the individual and the communal. Another difference between the two ways of listening is when it comes to sin. To John’s way of thinking, God’s goodness is at the heart of each one of us. In repenting of sin, we are not turning away in order to be someone else, but re-turning to our true selves, made in the loveliness and goodness of the image of God. It is a recognition that we have been created in the image of God to be holy as he is holy but that that goodness has been covered over. We need to peel back the layers to reveal again that light that is at heart of our own beings. To Peter’s way of seeing, we are ever capable of sin and are to be warned against this tendency in ourselves and others. Eventually this led to the Augustine belief that the essential goodness in us was totally erased with Adam’s fall. Here we need to find a balance where we believe and hope in our God-given goodness on the one hand and yet wise and alert to our sinful leanings. But how can we do this? From the John tradition we hear the emphasis on the new commandment from Jesus: “love one another just as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) To John change will come through love. John’s spirituality is guided above all else by a sense of the welling up of love from life’s deepest springs, the place of God’s abiding. In the Peter tradition, great confidence is placed in the outward strength and rightness of the law. It is important to note that we need both perspectives. Otherwise, our faith will be either a vague, unproductive enthusiasm for the sacredness of all life or a joyless moral dutifulness. And so while the focus of this series has been on the lost Celtic spirituality and the tradition of St. John, let us remember that we can learn from the many different ways of approaching God that have been followed by people over the centuries. In closing I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Philip Newell and his work to helping us delve more deeply into this ancient way of listening for the heartbeat of God. Perhaps for some of us this has met a longing within our hearts for a way that made sense to us but that we hadn’t heard expressed before. Perhaps our awareness of this neglected tradition will assist us in the future to go beyond these four walls and to become a place where people can step into and out of daily life and be reminded that the cathedral of God is the whole of creation. Perhaps then we will see and others will come to see that God can be found in the whole of life for that is where his heartbeat is and as we listen, we too may hear that heartbeat within us.
Bible Text: Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Mark 6:1-13 | Preacher: Rev. Bruce W. Kemp | Series: Celtic Spirituality Last time we were learning about the attempt of Alexander Scott to reintroduce to the Presbyterian Church in Scotland a way of seeing God’s presence as embracing all of creation. His radical notion that God’s love and grace were for all people was not welcomed by the established church at that time. However, there was a younger Scottish minister who had been influenced by Scott and the novels of George MacDonald. His name was Norman MacLeod (1812-1872). In 1843 there was a split in the Church of Scotland. While MacLeod remained with the established church, he began to have a profound influence on the direction of its spirituality and theology. In a real sense, he reawakened within the Scottish church that ancient Celtic spirituality and presented it in such a way that people began to accept it as a path for the modern church. The Celtic trait of seeking God’s presence in the whole of life and not just within the Church and its traditions led to a relaxing of the Sabbath laws in the Church and enabled places of beauty and nature to be opened on Sundays allowing families to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the parks and gardens on what was - for most people - their only day off work. When the Church allowed the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh to open on Sundays, it was a sign that the Church was beginning to acknowledge that God could be found and worshipped beyond the four walls of the church. The people were once again allowed to listen for the heartbeat of God in the whole of life. But as much as Norman MacLeod was a key figure in the rediscovery of this ancient way of seeing, it was Norman’s grandson, George Fielden MacLeod (1895-1991) who found a way to get the Church to see that it was not a matter of either/or but rather two ways of seeing and finding God in life. MacLeod emphasized that we are in touch with God every moment that we live, “for the simple reason that God is life: not religious life, nor Church life, but the whole of life….God is the Life of life.” (Newell, p. 76) Spiritual awareness, then, is not about becoming aware of God in a setting created by human hands but rather it is about being aware of God in the midst of the change and movement and flow of life, in the rising of the morning sun, in the work and relationships of daily life, in the interior life of the soul, in times of rest and sleep, and even dreaming. God is at the heart of all life. We don’t have to try to reach God through acts of devotion, for God is closer to us than our very breath. “We have been given union with God whether we like it or not,” MacLeod said, “Our flesh is his flesh, and we cannot jump out of our skins.” (Newell, p. 76) MacLeod was both a Celtic mystic and a Presbyterian minister. He was more concerned that people understand themselves to be Christian than Presbyterian and he encouraged people to not take too seriously the religious boundaries by which we so often define ourselves. After all, God is the Life of the world, not merely some religious aspect of it. When it came to his understanding of spirituality, he warned against believing that becoming more spiritual led a person away from the world. Rather, it was meant for us to go more deeply into life, to find God at the heart of life and to liberate God’s goodness within us and in our relationships, both individually and collectively. “It is the primacy of God as Now that we must recover in Christian mysticism,” said MacLeod. (Newell, p. 80) Our innumerable ‘nows’ as we go through our day are our points of contact with God. (Newell, p. 80) But while MacLeod emphasized a spirituality of awareness, a looking and listening in the midst of every moment of life, he also believed in setting aside time for formal private and communal prayer. He also firmly believed that God is not found apart from the stresses of life but within them. Our time of prayer need not be seen as an escape from the pressures of life but rather our conversation with the God who is there in the midst of life where life is lived. But he also had a vision to re-establish that ancient Celtic community of Iona and so in 1938 he gathered together a group of craftsmen and began to restore the old monastic buildings and begin a community dedicated to the discipline of prayer, rebuilding justice and re-establishing the foundations for peace. MacLeod brought into the mainstream of the Church a way of seeing that had never died out. Repressed for centuries, it continued to be sought for by the people who descended from that early Celtic community. Through this way of seeing, the essential goodness of creation is affirmed and the image of God is firmly visible in all humanity. Yet there is a keen awareness within this way of seeing that there is evil in the world and that the believer must be aware and vigilant. As vibrant as creation is with God’s life, there are forces of darkness that would bind us. We need the saving grace of God to liberate us in order that we might once again discover the essential goodness of our creation. The Celtic spirituality also reminds us that the spiritual realm is closer than we may think. Heaven and earth are connected in ways that are invisible and yet very visible. MacLeod’s plea for the modern day Church was for a recovery of the vision that would free us, individually and collectively, to see both the heights and depths of the mystery in which we live, the glory within us and in the matter of creation as well as the darkness, which, close and imprisoning, threatens each life. MacLeod saw danger in separating the secular from the sacred. When we do that, we make our faith an appendage to our life rather than life itself. Our salvation in Christ is not just for that part of us that makes time for God; our salvation in Christ is for every part of our life. When MacLeod passed away at the age of 96, the final prayer read at his funeral was this one composed by MacLeod himself: Be thou, triune God, in the midst of us as we give thanks for those who have gone from the sight of earthly eyes. They, in thy nearer presence, still worship with us in the mystery of the one family in heaven and on earth… If it be thy holy will, tell them how much we love them, and how we miss them, and how we long for the day when we shall meet with them again…. Strengthen us to go on in loving service of all thy children. Thus shall we have communion with thee, and, in thee, with our beloved ones. Thus shall we come to know within ourselves that there is no death and that only a veil divides, thin as gossamer. (Newell, p. 93) His prayer was written in the conviction of the closeness of the saints, and his belief that death is not a departing from life but a returning to its Heart. Next week will be the conclusion of this series.