Friday, May 24, 2013

Trinity Sunday, Year C

The Mystery of God

Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

You and I live in an addicted society. That can only mean that all of us are in some way or another affected by the disease. Most likely we ourselves are addicted in one way or another. When asked about addiction, most of us would think of alcohol or drugs, and it is true those are common, recognizable addictions. You might also if you really put your mind to it, come up with gambling, sex or shopping. There is a certain popular psychologist who lists one hundred and eighty three known addictions. He himself admits to fourteen. His personal list includes chocolate, television, sports and cleanliness. As you can imagine, with one hundred and eighty three possibilities there are some which you would not likely think about. I had not particularly thought of gossiping as an addiction, but there it was on his list along with others such as intimacy, humour and, yes, religion.

As humans we live with addiction. We are born hungry, and we continue to hunger in one way or another through our whole lives.

I was talking to a young person in our church Youth Group about his first job. He got it to save up for a Wii. It took him what he described as "months of pain" but he finally earned enough money and bought it. "It was a lot to go through," he reflected, "to get what I wanted." He liked it. But no sooner had he bought it than he began to think of what he would like next. He wondered if his whole life would be like that. Wanting something and saving for it and never being satisfied.

I didn't want to disillusion him, but isn't that how we spend our lives? Feeling hunger that will not go away and trying to satisfy it?

When I reflect on that, I cannot help but think that it has something to do with our basic relationship with God. For it seems that our deepest hunger can only be satisfied through a life long journey which helps to unravel the mystery which is at the heart of the Christian faith, the mystery which is at the heart of God.

Most of us seem never to come to terms with our need to satisfy our Spiritual hunger. Even when things happen which seem to reflect God's presence in our lives, we are often unable to give God the credit. We are quick to blame God for the bad things that happen, but at the same time we fail to acknowledge when God is with us.

I have heard many colleagues bemoan the fact that they must preach on Trinity Sunday. If at all possible it is relegated to the Assistant Curate or an Associate. Their excuse is that they do not wish to preach about a doctrine. And if you do put it down to doctrine and deliver some theological treatise about the Trinity you will put people to sleep. The powerful thing about it is that Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery of God. This day marks our movement from the Easter Season into the ordinary time of the Sundays after Pentecost. We try so hard to explain God. For centuries theologians have attempted to put that great mystery into words. The doctrine of the Trinity is not some great truth that God has put in stone for us to believe. In fact, there is no place in Scripture which talks about the Trinity. It is rather a metaphor developed over the centuries about how we experience God's presence. The concept of the Trinity allows us to explore who God is and how God works in our lives. It calls on us to turn to God to satisfy our hunger. In the midst of anguish and trouble we experience the God who walks with us. In the beauty of nature, we experience the One who created us with wisdom and care. When life gets too serious, we experience God joyfully dancing at the thought of creating the human race. When we are filled with guilt, regrets and anxieties, we experience a God who justifies us, not because we are worthy, but because we have claimed it and are significant to God.

In some ways that can only leave us still hungering. Can we ever be satisfied in our search and hunger for truth? What we need to discover during this season is that the hunger is the Spirit itself drawing us into the truth, guiding, teaching, interpreting so that we may come to a deeper understanding of God.

We can have confidence in God, our loving and caring creator. For we know the saving action of Jesus Christ. We know the guidance of the Spirit. We continue on our life long journey of discovery of the God in whose image we are created.

Today we celebrate that mystery which is at the heart of the Christian faith, by bringing three children into the family of Christ. There is Daria, an active participant in our Sunday School, there is Jacob, a young member of a family that has a history in this parish, and Destiny, whose family is new to this congregation. These three families have participated in Baptismal preparation over the past few weeks. They are prepared to make a commitment to the faith on behalf of their children. As these three children are baptized, as promises are made on their behalf, this whole congregation participates as we promise to uphold them in the faith. We all renew our baptismal covenant, remembering the promises that were made for us when we became members of the Church of God through baptism. As Daria, Jacob and Destiny take their rightful place among us, we look for the power of the Holy Spirit to become active in their young lives. We share in the joy of the God who created us, sustains us and redeems us. Amen.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Feast of Pentecost, Year C

Enthused with God’s Holy Spirit

Readings: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27

"I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever," Jesus told the disciples. "The Spirit of truth to be in you." With those words, Jesus made it clear to them that they would not be left alone. The Spirit would be with them. They had recognized that the Spirit guided Jesus. So the same Spirit would dwell in them. With the help of the Spirit they would do great works. In fact, it was Jesus' expectation that they would accomplish even more than he had. They would be released from behind the locked doors that held them captive following his death and resurrection. In Greek it says that they would be 'enthused' which means literally 'God filled'. Released into a world in need of the transforming grace of God. Released into the world as channels of God's peace.

So when the day of Pentecost came, it is no surprise that they were all gathered together in one place. There is power in coming together as a community. They were waiting expectantly for the fulfillment of Jesus' words. Suddenly from heaven there is the sound of rushing wind. So powerful is the experience that it fills the whole house. Tongues of fire appear over their heads. They are empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is something they have been waiting for, the fulfillment of Jesus' promise to them. It marks God's presence and activity within them and within all of creation.

What an extraordinary change took place in them! A few frightened people huddled behind locked doors in an upper room, were transformed into a vibrant, outgoing community of faith. In their enthusiasm, they took the message of the resurrection to the streets. They went public. They became Christ Incarnate in the world.

We meet Sunday by Sunday as a community of believers. There is a power in meeting together, in sharing our experience of the how the Spirit is working in our lives. Part of our witness as Christians derives from gathering in a particular place in order to share the faith. Yet I sense that more often than not we see church as an isolated incident in our lives. We might share a small part of ourselves on occasion, something traumatic that has happened in our lives! Consider how the community comes together for a funeral. We may share some happiness in our lives. But most of the time we have no idea about the kind of pain and unhappiness that is going on in another person’s life.

That is tragic, for good things happen when we begin to see ourselves as a gathered community. It is our gathering that strengthens us in our faith. Our gathering equips us to go out with the message of the resurrection. To go out enthused, God filled. We, like the disciples become Christ Incarnate in the world.

The secular world accepts, and even understands many of our faith symbols. There is a general acceptance of the symbols associated with Christmas. Christmas trees are tolerated in most circles, although in this world of political correctness it may be become a holiday tree. After living for so many years in Mississauga, I was stunned to go into Port Hope at Christmas time and see a manger scene in the park. The cross is a recognized and accepted image. Those who give only nominal acceptance to the faith often wear the cross as a piece of jewellery.

But the Pentecostal experience, the symbol of fire, and praying in tongues, and the kind of enthusiastic response which goes with it, are at the very least embarrassing, and probably more to the point, totally incomprehensible. Incomprehensible not only to the secular world it seems, but also to many Christians. If we associate the events of Pentecost with Christianity in any particular form, it is with the charismatic elements of our faith. The tendency is to view charismatics with skepticism and alarm, sometimes deservedly so. I have heard a charismatic described as "a person who grabs you by the lapels and says 'you must speak in tongues'." And sadly that kind of exclusivity has often been the focus of such groups.

But Pentecost is an important event in the life of every Christian. We all need to find a way to express what happened at Pentecost in our lives. Jesus makes it clear that, just as the Spirit was made available to the disciples, so the Spirit would be with us working in us. We too are called to be enthused with the Spirit, to be God filled.

The experience of Pentecost is about how we begin to express that in our lives. Sometimes there are no words to express what we want to say about God. We grope for the right words. We sit in silence and soak in the beauty of a sunset. We dance. We sing. We pray. We express the Spirit in whatever way is right for us.

Do we really know that the Spirit is in us? The Spirit waits to be released and used as the greatest resource for living that we possess. Pentecost is about the energy and strength that come from being enlivened by God's Spirit. It is about freedom from fear and release from the locked door mentality. It is about the power to transform lives. It is about celebrating the diverse ways in which God's Spirit works.

But most of all, it is about doing greater things than Jesus did. “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Can we even comprehend that? It is not enough to simply go on thinking that what we do is good and acceptable to God. Jesus healed the sick. He ate and drank with outcasts and sinners. He freed people from bondage.

We all have Spiritual gifts. If we used our gifts as God would have us, they could transform the world. What would it be like if we all used our gifts? There would be those who visit the sick and bring love to a lonely life. There would be those who respond to others needs, sharing faith, listening, caring. Others would teach children and young people with integrity and love. The prophets of our day would warn us of impending disaster and challenge us to clean up our world in order to avert economic and ecological disasters. Some would share wisdom helping us to think more clearly. Some would help us enunciate our faith more clearly. Others would provide the healing touch. There would be those who speak words of encouragement to the downhearted. Some would overcome great difficulties in their own lives and go on to help others. Some would pray. Others would inspire.

Are these not all manifestations of the Spirit of God working in the lives of people? Are they not images of Spirit-filled people, on fire with the passion of God's justice? Pentecost has happened to us. The Holy Spirit has been given and continues to abide within the lives of those who follow Christ. Where does the power come from? God is about us and within us at this very moment. Let us celebrate the presence of God's Spirit in the world and in the church. I wish you all, on behalf of the Church of God, a very happy, Spirit-filled birthday.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Preparation for Pentecost

I have decided to try something a little different on my blog. I am posting the questions that I am asking myself this week as I prepare for preaching next Sunday. I would enjoy hearing your comments.

The readings on Sunday, May 19th are:
Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, 25-27

Describe how some person has inspired courage in you.
What gifts of the Spirit can you identify in yourself that could help transform your world?
Which gifts of the Spirit can you identify in our community?
How are we developing together with others a mission of liberation in our everyday life?
Language is so important to our understanding. Recall an experience when your words were terribly misunderstood.
When have you been surprised at people very different from you hearing God's message through you?
What do the words "I'm sending you" call you to do this week?
Speak of a time when you were able to go beyond your limitations in speaking or doing something.
Write your gift on a piece of paper. Place it on the offering plate.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year C

The Power of Prayer

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

I have a favourite place to pray. It is a real place, but I have been there only once. A friend who lives up near the Forks of the Credit took me there when I was visiting her. It is a place, the memory of which I cherish, and to which I go in my memory for comfort, for solace, to feel close to God. The journey to the place is part of its charm. My friend led me around a farmer’s field, into a wooded area until we came to the river. At this point the river meanders wide and shallow. There is a path along the riverbank. We followed the path for some time. As we approached a bend in the river, we could hear the rush of water. Then the path ended abruptly. My friend took off her shoes. “The river is the only way forward,” she told me, and I followed suit. As we rounded the bend the river split. We walked through a shallow part of the river around a huge rock and into a cave. The cave extended over the river, and water cascaded into a deep pool. In the centre of the pool was a huge rock. We climb onto the rock and sat there bathed in sunshine, shadows, mist and rainbows. It still takes my breath away to think about it.

Jesus had a place of prayer. When they stayed in Jerusalem, he and his disciples would often spend the night under the trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was located on a slope of the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem. A grove of olive trees stood there. The night before he died, Jesus went there with the disciples to pray. Our Gospel for today is part of the prayer, the prayer of one who is praying for those he loves deeply. The moment is intense, the language, deeply moving. Jesus prays for his disciples as they move into a future that lies beyond his physical presence with them. He knows their anxieties. He knows their fears and confusion. He wants to prepare them for what is to follow. He wants them to know that they are not alone, that they will never be alone.

He prays for their reassurance, that they may know God’s comfort. He prays that they may be filled with hope. He prays for peace in their hearts. He prays for God’s continued presence through the community. And he prays for a sense of unity. He prays that they may all be one. That is what Jesus did for the disciples. It is what Jesus did for each of us. It is not a prayer for the disciples alone, but for all of us who believe today, tomorrow and the tomorrow after that.

When we think of the Lord’s Prayer, of course, what comes immediately to mind is the prayer that we say every day. This gives us another Lord’s Prayer, one in which Jesus is praying for us, that we might be strengthened, that we might be unified, that we “may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

What a powerful prayer that is! It is not a prayer that we will all be the same. It is not a prayer that we will agree with one another. It is a prayer that we will be enabled to see more clearly what God has done for us. God brings us together, warts and all, with all our hurts and struggles so that we can learn that it is through our differences that God’s glory truly shines.

There is such power in being prayed for. And yet we do it so reluctantly. We are even more reluctant to have anyone pray for us. Yet it should be a wonderful reminder that we do not have to do everything for ourselves. Others are there offering support. Their prayers are a reminder that we are valued, that we are cared for.

In 1998, I went as a speaker to the Women’s Festival in Harare, Zimbabwe, celebrating the World Council of Church’s Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women. It was a life-changing experience to be a part of that amazing throng of women, twelve hundred strong, but even more life-changing was the partner to partner visit that I made to South Africa. I stayed with a family in Seshego, one of the townships of South Africa. The townships were segregated communities during apartheid. They remain very poor and underdeveloped. The people are amazing. I stayed with a widow, her widowed daughter and two children in their simple home. The youngest of the children, a girl about eight, greeted me with a picture she had made. On it she had written, “’Sesotho”, ‘you are welcome’. Even more astounding from my Canadian eyes, as I entered the home I was invited to pray for the family, and they in turn prayed for me. That is the pattern that emerged everywhere I travelled in Africa. It had a huge impact on me, and I tried to make that a part of my ministry when I returned home. I have to say that in our reserved North American culture it was received with rather a lack of enthusiasm. I reverted to offering prayer at the end of a visit.

If it is powerful to know that others are praying for us, how much more powerful is it to know that Jesus prays for us? So my question to you this morning is, what do you want Jesus to be praying for you right now? I don’t want you to get the idea that all of your problems will suddenly vanish, or that being a faithful Christian will be easy. But what do you want Jesus to know? What do you need? What do you want Jesus to pray for? Is it encouragement as you face a difficult time in your life? Is it for a family member who is ill? Is it patience to be a better parent or friend? Is it joy in the face of the loss of a loved one? Is it for a better world, a safer world for your children to live in? Is it healing of body, mind or spirit? Is it hope when nothing seems to be going right? Is it for peace in your heart? Do you want to thank Jesus for being in your life?

Now think of just one word that sums up what you want Jesus to pray for you. Carry that word with you as you go away from church today. Remember it as you go about your daily living this week. And remember that Jesus is praying for you as he prayed for the disciples. Know the power of Jesus’ prayer. Let that word remind you that Jesus cares for you, that Jesus loves you. To be entrusted with the message of the gospel is to live as people who know we are loved and are free to love. It is to know that Jesus is with us always to the end of the age. Amen

Saturday, May 4, 2013

No Sermon this week

I am off to my 50th High School reunion this weekend. I am not preaching.

All Saints, Year c

I Have a Dream Propers Daniel 7:1-3,15-18 Psalm 149 Ephesians 1:11-23 Luke 6:26-36 Martin Luther King had a dream. His dream was put in...