Monday, 30 January 2017

"Blessed are Those..."

The Beatitudes or “Sermon on the Mount” as they are often referred to,  particularly perhaps because in Matthew’s gospel, it says, "Jesus went up the mountain and after he sat down, his disciples came to him" (Mt 5: 1). This is when he gives this particular sermon on what it means to live into the Kingdom of God.

We know for the most part what we hear in Matthew 5:1-12 as blessing is very different then how the world might consider one to be blessed, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted, blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,  blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers,  blessed are the persecuted…….. 

What is so blessed about being poor in spirit? Nothing, it is a place of darkness and despair where one feels alone, or empty, forsaken. What is so blessed about being in mourning? Nothing, it is terrible to lose a love one, to feel the deep dark sorrow of grief and pain we bear in loss. Blessed are those who are meek, why say the meek are blessed?  These are the ones who get walked on the most in our world, get pushed around, beaten up even, and forgotten about? What is so great about all that … and we know that there is nothing great about it at all.  It is here however, that Jesus is saying that we should find blessing. 

Jesus is not of course promoting that one should go out and intentionally seek to be poor in spirit in order to find blessing, or be ever more mournful because that is where one will be comforted, or seek persecution,  in order to find righteousness.  It is knowing that when we find ourselves in such difficult places in life, when we look for the true nature of blessing there, we will find it because God is there with us. 

Yesterday I visited someone who has endured Cancer for many years, it was her birthday, and very likely the last birthday she will have on this earth, and while there is certainly no blessing in Cancer, she shared with me how she have been blessed through it all.  Blessed by the care she had been given by the Cancer care team, by the love and support she has known through her family, friends and neighbours, and in that she found much blessing, love and thankfulness, and much reason to celebrate and feel joy on her birthday. 

That too is what Jesus was teaching in the beatitudes, for it is only looking to the ultimate blessing of knowing God both in the present and future time, that we can endure the troubles that this world will bring.  Jesus in this gospel, had been instructing his disciples, on the kingdom of God, but a kingdom that was within each of them, as it is within each of us, and it is to be found, when we put our focus on, not seeking after what the world promises, but seeking after what God promises. 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  No, blessing doesn’t always come in the way most might perceive it to be in the world, in the wealth and good fortune that many enjoy. More so it is in the immaterial, the love that is given and felt, when one gives to bring life to another, as the peacemakers of our world, who  put their own lives at risk to give another a chance at a more peaceful life;  or the pure in heart, those who give out of the goodness of their hearts,  self-less acts of love and giving for the sake of the other. All deserving of reward but not often thought about, it is these  Jesus says, who will see God. 

In that there is real promise, promise of eternal glory in the Father’s kingdom, and that is the promise Jesus gives all who work for His kingdom glory, instead of for earthly glory.  Jesus was no doubt concerned about the dangers of temptation for those who would follow him. Temptations that take one away from faithful living, in pursuit of one’s own self-interests, or self-glorification, or gratifications for that matter.  There was as much danger of that for the disciples then, as it is for us now. 

Previous to this gospel Jesus had been healing all kinds of sickness and disease and great crowds it says were following him, bringing their sick to him, and no doubt taken up with the miraculous.  Jesus was handy to have around.  Perhaps they were seeing him as the new Moses, and looking for more of the same when God brought the plagues on the Egytians to free the Isrealites.  Jesus could serve them well in overthrowing the romans with this kind of power.   For the disciples it must have been a very powerful feeling to have been called as his right hand men, so to speak.  But what Jesus was doing, wasn’t about power and fame, it was about humbling oneself before the almighty God. And allowing God to have the prominent place in one’s life.

To bad some of our worlds’ leaders today don’t recognize humility as one of the greatest virtues they could ever strive after, just imagine what a magnificent world we would have if that were the case. If all were to humble themselves before our almighty God.  The world’s hungry would be fed, the poor would have plenty, the lost would be found, there would be no more refugee fleeing from danger, there would be no homeless, or poverty, or oppression and less sickness and discease, because all would be fed, all would be taken care of, all would be treated, equally, fairly, and justly.  That is a world worth hoping and striving for, and praying about. 

And that is just it, because it is what Jesus is calling us all to strive for through the beatitudes, God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. 

The beatitudes points us to God’s kingdom ways, and while the world looks on these rules or instructions as impossible to live by, and most take them more at sentimental value then anything else, they are however, instructions indeed for how God intends  us all to live. 

The old testament prophet Micah (6:1-8) speaking to the people of Isreal after they had forgotten about what God had done for them, going their own way, living for themselves rather then looking out for one another, caring for the poor among them, when they were reminded of this,  they offered to make retribution for their sins through greater sacrifice, even to offering to sacrifice their first born to the Lord. The prophet says to them, “ He has told you O Mortal, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindess, and to walk humbly with your God.

God was not looking for more ritual acts of sacrifice, more acts of piety that they might prove their worthiness, but asking for changed lives.  People who honored God with their lives, not through practiced ritual but doing good in the world, keeping the peace, sharing what they had so there would be a more just and better society for all. 

The beatitudes speak to who God is and what God is about, and in them we too should seek to find ourselves, as those who are striving to do good in the world, striving to make this a better place through our own acts of mercy, love and compassion.  Walking with the suffering of our world, the lonely, the sick, the displaced, the persecuted, not standing outside of it but stepping into all the brokenness of our world, for it is there too we will find our God.

Sometimes it feels like there is little hope for the world as it is, but it is trusting that our God is greater then all that is happening, that we too will find blessing in the integrity of knowing that we walk in faithfulness with our God.

And so as the prayer written by William Sloan Coffin says:  "May God give you the grace never to sell yourself short; grace to risk something big for something good; and grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love."

Amen, God Bless.  

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Experiencing Resurrection!

This past Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Mary Magdelene got up very early while it was still dark and went to the tomb. Finding the stone rolled away from the tomb opening, Mary Magdelene runs to tell Simon Peter and the beloved disciple. They immediately ran to the tomb, the other disciple getting there ahead of Simon Peter looks in the tomb to see the linen wrappings that Jesus had been wrapped in when he was placed in the tomb still lying there. Jesus grave clothes were there but Jesus was not, the disciple it says do not go into the tomb. I thought
about that and wondered, why did he not go in? Was it as some have said so that Peter as the more senior disciple perhaps would be the first one to go in? Maybe, but that just doesn't make sense when the concern was what had happened to Jesus, where was he. I would think it was rather that the disciple had already concluded with the linens lying there, that Jesus wasn't there, and there was no point to go looking for the living among the dead.

Peter arriving at the tomb went in and found the linen wrappings as the first disciple, only this time it says, the wrapping that was around Jesus head was also there but rolled up and placed by itself, showing that this was no forceful leaving.  If it were grave robbers that had stolen the body, or the Romans had taken Jesus from that tomb, they certainly would not have taken the time to neatly fold up any head wrapping, or to remove his grave clothes. Why would they bother? He was already dead, what would be the point in doing that, they certainly would not want anyone to think that he had been raised.  They would have done anything to stifle that from getting out.  The other disciple went in also and it says, 'he saw and believed'. We are not sure what he  believed, did he somehow come to the conclusion that this pointed to Jesus being raised, or was it that he believed what Mary Magadelene had told them that Jesus was not there as she had said.  Which was quite obvious with the grave clothes being left behind, but what is rather odd, is that they left and return to their homes. Did they tell any the others about the grave clothes, what were their thoughts about it all?  did they just wait to see what might happen next, if Jesus would contact them, or if someone would?  will according to John's gospel (John 20:1-18), we don't really know.

But we do know that Mary Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb, and because she did, she becomes the first witness to the resurrection. Mary Magdalene so consumed in her grief is not ready to walk away, determined to know where Jesus body is she stays awhile longer.  Still consumed in her grief, weeping, she looks into the tomb.  It is then she saw two angels sitting where Jesus body had been laid in the tomb, "one at  the head and one at the feet". Mary Magdalene so concerned about where Jesus body might be, it seems doesn't even notice to whom she is speaking.  When they say to her "woman why are you weeping," Mary's only concern is where is Jesus, "they have taken my Lord, and I do not know where they have placed him."  Mary is like ourselves when we are looking for someone or something, our thoughts are totally on that,  nothing else.  We can't seem to focus our minds anywhere  only in finding the one thing we are looking for. We keep going back to where we know we had last seen it, looking for answers, even if perhaps it doesn't make sense to do so. (In this case, Jesus' grave clothes were left there).

It is then she turns and sees Jesus standing there but she doesn't recognize him, still consumed with her grief, she mistakes him for the gardener and asks him, "If you have taken him away, please tell me where you have laid him, so that I can take him away."  For Mary the only logical answer for Jesus body to be gone from that place is for someone to have taken it.  Mary knew death, Mary knew burial. She had been there when Jesus was crucified, she was there when they had taken Jesus body down from the Cross, she had been there when they had laid him in that tomb.  She and the other women had followed them when they carried his body there so they would know where it was.  Mary knew all these things, but she did not know resurrection.  Jesus was no longer there.

It is then that Jesus speaks to her, saying "Mary".   Mary recognizing his voice, says, "Rabonni, Teacher".   We can only imagine her reaction at the recognition of that voice. "My sheep listen to my voice, I know them and they know me"(John 10:27). And no doubt Mary was wanting to grab hold to Jesus, as we all do when someone we love show up unexpected, we just want to hold onto them and not let go. And for Mary perhaps after losing him once she didn't want to let him go again. But Jesus says to her "do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the father. "

There was still more to do and Mary was to be a part of it, in taking the good news of the resurrection to the others. She was the first witness to the resurrection.  "Go to my brothers, and say to them I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."  Mary Magdelene went and announced to all the others, "I have seen the Lord."

"I have seen the Lord."  Can you imagine when Mary went through that door this time where the disciples were, what her demeanour was like.  You can be sure it was far different then the first time she had gone to tell the disciples Jesus body was not in the tomb. No longer was Mary afraid, but filled with joy and exaltation at the good news that Jesus had risen from the dead.  That is what resurrection does, it changes things.  It changes the way we view the world, it changes the way we see, where Mary could only see despair now there was great hope."  Resurrection turns our sorrow into joy, our despair into hope; with Resurrection Love overcomes hate, good wins over evil, and light drives out darkness., It tells us death has been transformed into New life!   And so my friends where have you seen Resurrection in your lives?

This past sunday as I celebrated Easter Eucharist, Resurrection was happening not only in the telling of the Easter story, or present to us in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, but it was happening right there, in the lives of the people present.  One lady after the service came to me remarking on how the natural light of the sunrise was so powerful that it took her breath away telling me it was as if God himself had lit up the sanctuary. Maybe he had, there was good reason to, we were celebrating Resurrection, New life. And New life was obviously the order of the day.  A elderly lady who was there with her family, only a week earlier so sick that it was thought she might not survive this time, she had fought a battle with Cancer for over forty years. But this morning she came to church and made her way to the communion rail without any assistance to receive the sacrament.  There was resurrection.   At another service throughout the day an elderly man who was told by his dr.,  that his next breath could be his last one, he had had so many heart problems, walked into the church assisted by his family.  He participated in the prayers, the singing of the hymns, and when it was time to pass the peace got out of his seat and walked back to pass the peace to his neighbours unassisted.   After the service he told me "that was the first time he had been to church and received the sacrament for over forty years but today "he just had to come".  Resurrection happens because we believe.  Mary Magdalene saw and believed, "I have seen the Lord" she said.  We too have see the Lord, we may not have the empty tomb that we can go to to check it out, or the linen wrappings left behind in the tomb to verify what we believe, but we know we have seen and believed, because it is our story too, and so it is we too go and tell, "I have seen the Lord."  Jesus Christ is Risen today, Alleluia!

Amen, God Bless.

Monday, 29 February 2016

"Lord, teach us to Pray" (Luke 11:1)

One of the three Great Spiritual Disciplines we often focus on in Lent is our prayer life,  perhaps becoming more intentional about it, placing more stress on the pattern of prayer we take, or the time we give to it. The other two disciplines Jesus speaks about in Matthew's gospel (6:1-18) fasting, and almsgiving, are equally as important, in that they are all effective forms of discipline to help us become more spiritually fit.  

Over these forty days of Lent we are meant to reflect on our spiritual lives, what am I doing to strengthen my relationship with God and how am I doing in it.  We all from time to time become lax, our lives are busy,  and so it is easy to fall away.

The disciples in Luke’s gospel (11:1-8) no doubt recognizing their need for a more disciplined prayer life,  after seeing Jesus praying in a certain place, when he was finished they went to him, asking him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (11:1)

These disciples would have been steeped in prayer, as Jewish men it would have been part of their upbringing to be formed in the way of prayer. Following particular prayer rituals and pattern for prayer.   As a young child the first prayer I remember learning was, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”.  I  prayed that prayer right up through my teen years and perhaps even early adult years before I gave it up.  Only this year while I was visiting a elderly gentlemen in the hospital, after I finished having prayer with him, he said "there was always a prayer we prayed when we were children.  I don’t suppose you know it, do you?"  He couldn’t remember the words….. He was much older then I, in his 90’s.   I thought about the prayer I prayed as a child and thought will it couldn’t possibly be the same one with the age difference,  but I thought I’d try it, "wouldn’t be this one would it. Now I lay me down to sleep…”  and that was the prayer.  It was his prayer too.  That little prayer perhaps shaped and formed many of us down through the years in the way of faith. 

It was the prayer of our bedtime, and I think the gentlemen who was dying, found great comfort in it as we did as children. “If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” It spoke to us of God’s providential protection & care even in death.

Prayer forms us in the way of faith and shapes us, the disciples already shaped in prayer would have understood this and asking Jesus to teach them, was about learning from Jesus what they saw in his prayer life, and what they obviously saw between John and his disciples, "teach us as John taught his disciples"(11:1). The disciples wanted something more then a pattern or form for prayer.

Jesus response to them was to teach them to pray, using the words,  “When you pray say: Father, hallowed be your name….Your kingdom come… give us each day our daily bread…...".   It was a formula or pattern of Prayer.  The prayer we know as the Lord’s prayer, and continues to be the foundational prayer of our Christian faith today.  It is the prayer of the disciples of the Lord, one that marks their identity as Christ’s disciples.

It is our prayer of faith, one that is meant to shape and form us for his service in the world.  All too often we pray these words without even thinking about them and they become mere words rather then the prayer that it is intended to be.  That which builds relationship with the one to whom we pray, God our Father, Hallowed be thy name, to hallow God is to place God above all else, and when we do that we open our lives to be changed by God.   

Prayer is meant to change us and form us in the way of faith, and when we intentionally pray, whether it is the Lord’s prayer, or some other prayer form, we open our Lives to God.

Joan Chittister in her book, “Breath of the soul: Reflections on prayer, says, “to pray is to rivet our mind on God. “Rivet” what a powerful word meaning to fasten, to bolt, ourselves to God. “Spirituality without a prayer life is no spirituality at all, she says, and it will not last beyond the first defeats. Prayer is an opening of the self so that the Word of God can break in and make us new. Prayer is the act of beginning the process of becoming one with the one we seek”.

Jesus throughout his life embodied the practice of prayer: in Mark’s gospel (1:35) it says, “Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus went alone to a deserted place to pray.” And in Matthew’s gospel “after he had dismissed the crowds, he went upon the mountain by himself to pray” (matt 14:23).   As busy as he was, Jesus made time for prayer.  Jesus prayed about everything, he prayed all night before choosing his disciples, he prayed before healing people, he prayed when he was baptised.  And On the night before his arrest in John’s gospel (17:11) Jesus prayed for his disciples, interceding on our behalf, ‘Lord protect, them in your name you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.” 

Jesus’ prayer was intentional as our’s should be too, not praying only when we can make time for it, or when we feel we want to, or to pray only when we are in need or in trouble, as a comment I heard recently, “if we pray only when we are in trouble, then indeed we are in trouble.” Prayer is what firms  up our relationship with God and with one another, and it is being consistent at it that we become more faithful to it.

A disciplined prayer life doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and it takes effort. With so much to pray about, praying for ourselves, for others, and for the situations in our world, everyday there is something, or someone new to add to our lists of prayer concerns:  someone else is sick, someone has died, someone is in trouble, and at times we even become perhaps overburdened by it, that any kind of prayer life for ourselves feels even more of a burden.   And it can be, but our prayer is not to be so much about what we do, what I do, the prayer we offer up, as it is about God. Coming into his presence and just being in that moment, sometimes is prayer enough.  God knows our hearts, all we have to do is trust him to it.  Recently after hosting a Quiet Day, as I was taking  the prayer request from the prayer tree in one of the stations, one of the women said, we forgot to pray for these individuals during the closing prayer.  I said no, I prayed for all whom we brought to prayer here today, but I said, the real prayer for these persons and situations happened when you brought them to mind, and wrote your prayer request on that piece of paper." That was when you lifted them to God. Prayer takes place when and wherever we bring someone to mind, in that moment of concern, caring, or simple thought, we bring them to God, and let God do the rest.

Perhaps the most poignant image we hold of Jesus praying, is in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before his arrest. Jesus praying to the Father says, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me, yet not my will but yours be done”  and ‘then an angel from heaven appeared to him, and gave him strength.”  Jesus In his anguish prayed it says, “even more earnestly and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (Luke 22:44).  Embodied in the life of his prayer, Jesus in communion with the Father, took on the sins of the world.

As we Journey through this Lenten season reflecting on our Saviour’s journey to the cross, we are given this time to consider our own spiritual acts of discipline. One of them being prayer, there are many others, but it is with an intentional focus on what we do and how we do it, in prayer and other forms of discipline that we become strengthened for the journey ahead. Embodying the word of God in our prayer and in our life, we serve him more faithfully in the world.  And so, let the prayer of the disciples, be your prayer too, “Lord, teach us to pray,” that it will bring you more firmly planted in your relationship with the Saviour to Easter.

Amen, God Bless.

Friday, 12 February 2016

"Is not this the Fast that I choose:...."(Isaiah 58:1-12)

Ash Wednesday the day that Marks the beginning of Lent, the season of repentance over these next forty days.  A time when we reflect on our own mortality, marking our foreheads with ashes with the words you are dust and to dust you shall return.  What does this all mean to us today?

Traditionally in the church this day was as if it were a day of mourning, reflecting on our sin and sinfulness that we might strive to live better.   Recalling the Ash Wednesday service from my early years growing up in the Anglican church, I can remember our school day beginning with all the children being marched of to church for the Ash Wednesday service.  And while I am sure at the time we had little understanding of what it was all about, or why we were doing it, we knew that there was great significance in it for us. When we left the service to go back to school I always remember the overwhelming solemn feeling I came away with, but yet feeling so much better because of it.  It was as if I knew that somehow I had been given another chance, perhaps to get things right again.

That opportunity to get it right,  is what Ash Wednesday is really about, it is about recommitting ourselves to having a better relationship with God.  And why we put ashes on our foreheads as a sign of our recommitment to that relationship. 

St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, says, “we entreat you on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God.”(2 Cor 5:20b)  We are to put our life right with God.  “As we work together with him”(6:1), he says.  We work with Jesus, we don’t do it on our own, but through Christ working in us, we make the change that is needed.  That is what lent is about making space for God to move in, that we might live more fully in him. 

Jesus in the gospel for this day, (Mt: 6:1-6,16-21) speaking to the three spiritual acts of Piety, shows how even these can be used for ones own self-glorification, or gratification rather then for the purpose of strengthening our relationship with God.  The Pharisees were known for putting on great shows of piety and while they were the ones who were supposed to be the teachers of faith, the religious elite, in the sense that their practice should have set an example for others to follow, in essence it was creating self-worship, rather then worship of God.

They were becoming devoted to self, giving alms in a way, that others knew what they give, rather then giving for the sake of contributing to the work of God in the world. There prayer life and fasting became acts of show, so that others could see how righteous they were, rather then about spending time with God, enhancing that relationship.

Lent is a time for us to consider too, how our own acts of spiritual disciplines could become about self or show rather then about our relationship with God. About what we do and how we do it, placing self-importance on that, rather then about spending time with God, or giving because our heart calls us to give, in caring for the least among us.   

In the old testament reading the prophet Isaiah speaking to the people of his day, when they complained that they were doing all the right things, but God was not responding to them.  He says,  “look you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers, you fast only to quarrel and fight and strike with a wicked fist.  Such fasting you do today will not make your voice be heard on high.”  (Is.58:3b-4) Although the people performed their acts of repentance, they did not change their ways.  They continued to live in the same old way, and so their acts were purposeless, no point to them.  Fasting is an act of devotion that is meant to turn our hearts toward God, with a commitment to change, to turn our lives around,  live more fully as God intends us to live. 

Perhaps fasting is not something even taken seriously in our culture today,  but if it is something done for lent over these forty days as a self-decipline, or has a religious practice through out the year, then there should be some thought put into it as to what this is about and why.  It should be about creating not only a positive change for oneself, perhaps physically if it is giving up chocolate or some other self indulgence,  or over-indulgence for that matter, but also about spiritual improvement.  It should also create change in our relationship with God and with  others.  Jesus (speaking of those who were putting on public shows of piety), said, “truly I tell you, they have already received their reward.”(6:2b)

If you are going to fast from anything this Lent, make it count, it should cost you something. There should be some real commitment in it.   Don’t just go through these forty days with the end result or goal to be just that, you made it through these  forty day and start doing the same things again, make it a change that contributes, gives back in a way that will last.

Isaiah speaking to the people of his day about their wrongful understanding of what God expected of them, says , “is this such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?    “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break the yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house….?(Is 58:6,7).

Let your fast create real change, maybe there is some charity you can step in and help out with, give a hand at some neighbourhood function in your community, there are a million things that one can do to help the least among us, just take a look around you.  Or has Pope Francis said in a recent article posted on ‘what to give up for Lent this year’, he said, “you should give up indifference toward others. “ “Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”(Christopher Hale, “Pope Francis’ Guide to Lent).

 Yes,  we come with a humbleness of spirit to have our foreheads marked with ashes on ash Wednesday,  not as a sign of our own religious piety, but as a sign of acknowledging our own need for repentance. Recognizing  God’s gracious favor toward us we intend to try harder. In other words the mark of the ashes are a sign of our acknowledging that we haven’t done as good as we know we could have done, in following after Jesus and we want to do better. 

Perhaps our prayer life haven’t been what it should be, perhaps our giving hasn’t  been up to par, perhaps we have committed some wrongdoing  or other,  that we haven’t made right, and we need to make our confession, or perhaps offer forgiveness to another. But unless we make a serious effort to follow through, to change, to do better, then , all the ashes in the world will do nothing for us in bettering our relationship with God.   

As Jesus says in the gospel, “do not store up treasures for yourself on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21)

God wants us to commit our lives to him, in that we strive to do better, and we do that through following our practices of piety not with our self in mind but with God in mind, asking God, as the psalmist says, to “create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit with in me.”

 Ash Wednesday calls us to spiritual reflection, it calls us to reflect on our own acts of spiritual discipline, prayer, fasting and alms giving, and to consider how it is we might need to change or improve the way we do these in our own lives that they might better reflect who we are as a people of faith, those who believe and trust in God.

So I Invite you in the name of the Lord, to Keep a Holy Lent…. 

Amen, God Bless.

Monday, 18 January 2016

God's Overflowing Grace

As weddings usually go there is something likely to go wrong, some mishap or other, something unexpected.  From my experience as a clergy,  I remember the wedding rings being dropped and rolling across the floor just as the groomsmen went to hand them over for the blessing, or they have been left back at the house with someone having to return to look for them, another time the groom just as he was about to repeat his vows looked like he was going to fall over and I realized he was about to faint, and of course there is always the bride who comes late and the poor groom left waiting is about to have a panic attack thinking he has been left standing at the alter.   All sorts of things go wrong at weddings, and the wedding in Cana was no different, only here it was to run short on their supply of wine. (John 2: 1 -11). 

While that would be no big deal perhaps in our culture, someone would more then likely no where they could quickly to get more if they wanted it.  But For Mary, the mother of Jesus, this seems to be of great concern and  goes to jesus telling him “they have no wine.” Jesus however doesn’t seemed to be so bothered by it has his mother, and says to her, “woman, what concern is that to you and to me?”   My hour has not yet come."

Our first inclination is to think that was not a nice way to answer his mother. However, when we hear these last words,  knowing Jesus often spoke this throughout the gospels leading up to the time of his death on the cross, “my hour has not yet come,” we think that perhaps he is referring to this here. That it is not time for him to begin his ministry of revealing who he is as God’s Son.  And perhaps this so-called crisis, of not having enough wine for the wedding festivities was not of the miracle producing nature.

Mary however is not put off by what Jesus says, instead like any mother when she expects her Son to listen to her, she says to the servants, “do whatever he tells you.”  In other words now my Son, listen to your mother and get on with it.  She wasn’t about to take no for an answer. 

And in short order it seems Jesus does just what his mother had asked of him, he produces the new wine.  Why did Jesus hesitate in the first place, and why did he change his mind?  Was his mother so convincing? or might it be that he realized what was asked of him, was not about the wine at all, but about the life of this young couple, the impact this so called inconveniece as we might consider it, would have on their lives. 

In the time and culture of Jesus day running out of wine at a wedding feast would not only have been an inconvenience for this young couple and an embarrassment they would no doubt have to live with for the rest of their lives. Wine was a sign of the harvest, of God’s abundance, hospitality and joy, and so for this young couple to run short on wine, it was to run short on blessing. 

This couple was probably from a poor family, they likely did not have much to start out with, and to run out of wine meant that their lives were off to a poor start without God’s blessing.   In providing the wine  Jesus was not only helping them save face so to speak, but showing God’s blessing toward them.   God understands our needs, and responds to them, no matter how great or how small they may be, but also no matter what importance or lack of importance they may seem to someone else. They are important to God.

Jesus saw the importance in the need for this couple.  God’s grace is like that, it shows up in the ordinary events of our lives.  The wine was a gift not only for the party, in that Jesus provided more wine for the festivities,  but a gift of blessing for their lives, a way of revealing God’s grace toward them.  

In the season of Epiphany we look for God’s revealing, how God is made known to us in the scripture, what it says about God and who God is.  The miracle of turning the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, had much to say about God, that can be a blessing to our own lives.

When Jesus told the servants to fill up the purification Jars with water, it says they filled them to the brim, they were overflowing. Jesus didn’t just provide a few extra bottles of wine, for the wedding, which likely would have been sufficient.  These jars held twenty or thirty gallons, and that amount of wine, added up to about another 1000 bottles of wine.  I read somewheres, it said, this was more wine then the crowd could have drunk not only during the three days of the wedding feast, but even over three weeks.

That’s a lot of wine, why the abundance, why not give just what was needed.  Perhaps Jesus was doing a turn around on his mother, “you asked for it, you got it.”  We know that is not the case, this is a miracle of gigantic proportions, this is how God works.  God doesn’t just give in small quantities, or qualities, but like the overflow of wine that was pouring for the people there, God pours our his love abundantly toward us, our God is a generous God.  

No wonder when Paul in one of his letters complains about the thorn in his side,  he says the Lord says to him, “my grace is sufficient for you” (2 cor 12:9).  God blesses us above and beyond any thing we can ask or imagine. 

And that is just it we can’t imagine it, but we can know it through our experience.  Can you imagine the thoughts of the bridegroom when the steward called him over after tasting the wine.  This poor young fellow was probably expecting to hear the servant say the wine barrel was gone dry, and instead he says to him, “everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk.  But you have kept the good wine until now”  (2:10).
The Bridegroom must have been as we would say, blowin’ away by this, astonished, flabbergasted, call it what you like, but he knew then what it was to be truly amazed by God’s grace.  Even if he didn’t know where it had come from at the moment, for it says the steward didn’t know, maybe the servants who had drawn the water told him about it later, as it says they knew.   In whatever case it is no doubt he would have accepted it graciously, thanking God for not small miracles in this case but for a big one, because God didn't just give him more wine, and not only an abundant amount but gave his best. Now that is a awesome God.  A God who loves beyond all measure.

And we can testify to that in our own lives. We all know things that have happened perhaps in our own lives that have revealed God to us in a way that we cannot deny, we cannot let it go because we know something out of the ordianary, or extraordianary has happened.  That young couple would no doubt have remembered the miracle at their wedding perhaps going back to it many times over, throughout their lifetime, remembering God’s goodness towards them, and if so, it is likely their lives were ever more lived out in gratitude toward God.

That is what grace does, it doesn’t end with the event, or what happened, how God revealed himself to us, it is extended, shared, throughout our  lives in our response to it .  This was the first of Jesus signs, it says, in Cana of Galilee, revealing his glory,  and the disciples believed in him. 

Jesus gives us all we need to know his glory, the disciples were his followers they saw, and they believed, we too see and believe, because we know God is made present to us in the Eucharist, in our gathering together, in our baptisms, in our lives, wherever we are, and it is there we are to expect him to show up, and be present to us, just as Jesus was at the wedding in Cana. 

He was there, not all who were there knew who he was, not all, perhaps only a few there knew a miracle had taken place right in their midst,  but for those who did, God’s grace was made known in a powerful way.

 It is expecting God to be in all of our lives, in all places, and in all that we do,  that we  learn to discern his presence and goodness towards us and in the world, and know we are never away from him. God’s grace overflows freely toward us. 

Amen. God bless.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Baptism an Epiphany of God's Grace

Yesterday, Jan 10th, we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus in our church, and as we are also in the season of Epiphany I started thinking about these two together and how in Jesus baptism there is an Epiphany of who God is that gives much meaning to our own.

Jesus came to John to be baptized, and in Luke's gospel it says "when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descend upon him in form like a dove.  And the voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:21-22) Jesus was baptized in the same water as all others who came to John, and while that is significant in that Jesus although he was without sin, identifies with us as one who walked in the flesh with us.  What happened in and after Jesus baptism was quite significant in that it tells us much about Jesus but also about the father.  In Mark's gospel he doesn't just say that the heavens were opened but that they were torn apart (Mark 1:10),  telling us that something pretty dramatic happened there.  It is very likely that something very dramatic did indeed happen because it is not just spoken about in this way in one gospel, but in all three. The heavens were opened, the Spirit defended in bodily form of the dove, and the Father spoke saying, 'You are my Son, the beloved, in whom I am will please."   Revealing all three persons of the Trinity, active and present in Jesus baptism. In the tradition of our faith believing God to be present in all three forms in our own baptisms and continues to be so throughout our lives, we baptize too with water as the cleansing sign of God's presence, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The heavens being torn apart signify what God was doing in giving his Son for the sins of the world, no longer kept at a distance by our sin, but free to come and be with us in Jesus who was without sin.  Now in that there is an Epiphany, I know.  God came into this sinful world to reclaim  us as his own.  "You are my Son, the beloved in whom I am well pleased."  The Father didn't just claim Jesus as his Son, but affirmed him to be His Son.  Jesus was the Son of God, fully in flesh but also fully divine.  Jesus after his baptism was driven by the Spirit into the desert, the wilderness, for forty days where he was tempted by the devil.  Jesus claiming his identity as God's Son didn't fall for the temptations Satan threw at him, but walked out of the desert ready and able to begin his ministry in the world, teaching, preaching, and healing, proclaiming the kingdom of God in the world. If we were ever so faithful to God's teaching, to the promises we make in our own baptism might we too be ever more able to resist the temptations of this world. Temptations that destroy the creatures of God.

Baptism is not so much about what happens in the ritual practice we perform at our baptisms, the pouring of water, the blessing, the giving of light, or being marked with the cross.  Even though all that has great significance for us in what it all stands for and the meaning it brings to our own baptism, in that it signifies for us that God is present in our baptisms as he was in Jesus baptism.  Baptism however is more about all that comes after, being a baptized persons means we intend to live and grow in the faith traditions of our church, keeping the promises we make and were made for us in our baptism. Believing and trusting that God is with us in the world as he was and is with us in baptism.  If we believe and trust in that promise for our lives, as baptized persons we can become confident individuals knowing and experiencing God's presence in and throughout our lives.

Will we see the skies open, the spirit descending in bodily form or God's voice speaking audibly to us as he did in Jesus baptism, perhaps not, but if we are open to his revealing we can live in and through his grace and find God in places and things and become persons and do things perhaps we never thought possible, if we trust in God's Grace and Mercy to help us.

All you have to do is ask someone who have overcome a tremendous battle with Cancer, or someone who has fought the demons of some addiction and overcome it, and the Majority of people will say that  "without God I would never have made it." In that we know there are mountains that can be moved, because God has been a vivid and powerful reality in it.

God comes to us in powerful and profound ways,  perhaps we won't literally move mountains as Jesus seems to say we will do in scripture.  Although we know he is speaking metaphorically,  we know also that it is being open to God's revealing, that you will indeed come to know and recognize his presence in and for your own lives and in the lives of others, because you will know God, and God's ways.

Remembering our baptism, holding onto the promise we are given in it, that united with Christ in our baptism, we are never away from him, we may go our own way in the world, but God doesn't leave us. Our baptisms are indissoluble, binding, in that being united with Christ and his Church, we are joined to him forever. We are never alone in the world.  In that there is an Epiphany too, that God will never leave us but also we have been baptized into the same family of the church as all others who were baptized before us and since Christ. Now that is a real Epiphany, that we are a part of something that has been around for almost 2000 years, and that is something worth celebrating and giving thanks for.

In that there is real gift and promise in that God is always with us.  Holding onto that promise and carrying it throughout our lives,  we will come to depend on him in the difficult times for the strength we need, rely on him in the desperate times knowing we can do nothing without him, and in the times of joy and abundance we will come to know him too in our rejoicing. In and through it all, we know, that God is.

Baptism for us is an Epiphany, an Epiphany of God's revealing. As Jesus walked into the dirty waters of the Jordan with all the others who were being baptized, he signified the significance of what he was doing, in becoming the cleansing body for the forgiveness of our sin in the world. Now in that there is an Epiphany for sure, that God cared enough to give his only Son for the sake of us all. God's Grace revealed!

Amen, God Bless.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Epiphany, "God's Revealing"

It's been a while since I have been here, for many reasons really.  But hopefully now having gotten settled into a new parish over the past year I can get back to posting more regular reflections, giving light to the word.

It's the beginning of the New Year, January 6th being the Feast day of the Epiphany, I thought it time I start writing again.  Epiphany, meaning 'revelation', 'showing', 'manifestation' of God's appearing. The reading from Isaiah for this day begin with "Arise Shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you."(Isaiah 60:1)  The prophet is calling to the people to look to a new day, when the darkness they are feeling will be eradicated, there will be no darkness only light for them.  In the gospel for this day from Matthew, (matt 2:1-12) we have the arrival of the Wisemen from the East to Jerusalem. They have come  looking for "the child who has been born king of the Jews," because as they say they have seen "his star at its rising."

The star, a light in the night sky, was what told them where to find this child.  They however didn't go directly to Bethlehem to where the child was, but stopped in Jerusalem, presumably it is there they thought the child would be found. After their conversation there with Herod and finding out the child was to be born in Bethlehem, they set out again, and this time with directions from Herod to return and let him know where the child was so he too could go and pay him homage.  We know however Herod's intent was to get information from them so he could destroy the child, not to bring him gifts as the wisemen did.  For only a few days later, Mary and Joseph after being warned in a dream, flee to Egypt with the child, to escape what we know as the 'slaughter of the Innocents' when Herod ordered every male child under two in and around Jerusalem to be killed. The Wisemen after finding the child with Mary his mother, did not however go back to Herod, but it says, they too after having been warned in a dream went home by another way.

Going by another way may have meant taking a different route back to where they had come from, for a number of reasons, perhaps they realized what Herod was up to, and perhaps wanted to avoid been entangled in Herod's conspiracy to kill the child, or perhaps they just chose to go a more direct route rather then going back through Jerusalem.  Whatever the reason, these Wisemen play an important part in the Christmas Story, even though they come to it much later then the shepherds, they too were witnesses to the Christ Childs' Birth.  The Wisemen came believing what they had seen in the star, and it was that which brought them to Jesus, not Herod or his chief priest and scribes.  When they got back on the route to Bethlehem after leaving Jerusalem, it says, "they saw going ahead of them, the star they had seen at its rising" and when the star stopped over the place where the child was with his mother, they were filled with Joy. They knew they were at their destination's end. They had found the child.

How do we know we are at the right place in our lives, what directs us in the way we should go.  For the Wisemen it was the star they had seen at its rising, pointing the way for them to go to where the child was.  It was when they stopped in Jerusalem they seem to have lost their way, they inquire as to where the child is, expecting those whom they thought would know the whereabouts of the child to direct them, only to discover when they left they had all they needed it was right there in front of them.

What signs might we overlook in our life when God is calling us to go in a certain direction, might we too follow our own instincts as the Wisemen did going to Jerusalem looking for the child, might we too think we know our way, rather then listening to what God is saying to us through his word.  It is so easy to think that we have it right, when all the time we may be listening to voices, like Herod's was in trying to get the Wisemen fall in with his plot, it is when we get on track with God's Word that we hear him more clearly as the wisemen did when they got back on the route to Bethlehem.

In John's gospel, John speaks of Jesus coming into our World as the Light that gives life to the world, "the light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not overcome it"(John 1:5).  Jesus is that light and it is shining the light on God's word that we too are enlightened to his truth, as the Wisemen were in following the star, seeing the child, and listening to the warning they were given in a dream.   Epiphany, God's revealing, showing, calls us to be more observant to the signs that God is giving to us in our own time, our own day, that we might get on the right track as to where we should be going, what we should be doing. Epiphany calls us to be ever more observant of the light that shines and continues to shine even in the midst of the darkness in our own world, so that we too will be on the right paths in our own lives and to where God is calling us.

God's Blessing,