Message - Frances Jones - Dec. 16, 2018 Christmas 2018 Mystic Church - December 16, 2018 Welcome/Announcements/Thanksgiving Call to Worship (from Voices United, hymn #35) Good Christian friends, rejoice with heart and soul and voice! Listen carefully, we have news. Jesus Christ is born for this! He has opened heaven's door. We are blessed forevermore. And now let's rejoice with heart, soul and voice as we sing ~Hymn #60 – O Come All Ye Faithful, vs. 1,3 Opening Prayer (in unison) Dear God and Creator of us all, we praise you for the love that brought us here today. We come with thanksgiving for this light that shines in dark places. This love, through your gift to us in Jesus Christ, accepts us as we are. Lead us to seek you out as the shepherds and the wise men did. Teach us to rejoice over the good news and to share that joy with others. In Jesus' holy name we pray. Amen! Scripture Reading One: Isaiah 9: 2, 6-7 (Candace) We celebrate the fulfillment of this prophecy. God sent his Son to break oppression and to take away transgression in the name of love. Let's take a moment of silence as we express our own gratitude for this special gift.Moment of SilencePrayer of Confession (in unison)We come today to celebrate with joy the birth of the Saviour. God, please pardon us when we let festivities come before our praise and gratitude to you. Forgive us when we fail to recognize the light that you brought to those living in darkness; the hope and the peace offered to those suffering from despair. And please forgive when we fail to share the joy and the love that you so selflessly offer to us. Amen!Assurance of PardonThe God of peace cleanses us through and through. Rejoice, then, and givethanks as we receive forgiveness and healing in Christ's name. IntroductionToday's main focus will be on two very different groups of individuals who were shown the way in order to find Jesus. First, common labourers with no power or authority, no position of honour - the hard-working shepherd boys out in the fields. Probably young fellows thinking that this would be just another night of tending the flocks. The second group was made up of wealthy and powerful men from the east who came wearing fine clothes and bearing extravagant gifts. These men of power and authority were referred to as kings; a very different group of individuals who were directed toward Bethlehem. I find it interesting that these two contrasting groups have become such a significant part of the story of that first Christmas. First, let's hear the story of the shepherds and how they received their information. Scripture Lesson Two: Luke 2: 8-20 (Kathy) Reflection Picture, if you will, these hard-working shepherds out in the fields making sure that the sheep they were tending had lush, green pastures to feed on. That often meant moving about from meadow to meadow. We presume that they had been busy all day keeping track of all those sheep, some of which would be happy just to hang out with the rest of the flock; but there were always the curious ones who would wander away with no thought of danger – either from becoming lost or from coming face to face with a hungry predator. So these shepherd boys had to remain alert in order to keep each one safely within the flock. By nightfall, these fellows would be extremely tired. They might have been enjoying some 'down time' with light conversation between fellow sheep herders, or just quietly relaxing at the end of a busy day. Suddenly, out of the stillness of the starlit night, first one angel, and then a whole choir of angels appeared before these fellows, terrifying them. Imagine their fear as, out of the stillness and the darkness of the night, appeared this light so bright they could hardly see, followed by angel voices. Did they wonder what was in their containers that usually held water? But, frightened as they were, these humble shepherds stopped and listened to what these unexpected angel messengers had to say. They had news! Amazing, joyful news that seemed to have been meant for these shepherds specifically - right there in the meadow where they were. Let's sing about this amazing encounter ~Hymn # 75 – While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night Reflection cont'd. It was the reaction of these shepherd boys that I found particularly interesting. There was no debate, no hesitation and no thought of postponing their journey to Bethlehem until morning, when it would be easier to travel in the light of day. Immediately they said to one another, “Let's go!” And so they did. They hurried off to find exactly what they were told they would find. And there, in the little town of Bethlehem, all wrapped up and cozy, and lying in a manger, was this new-born child they had been told about by the angels. Could this be their saviour who would bring hope and peace to a troubled world – light to shadowy, dark places? This was not how they expected the Messiah to appear, but there he was. So they knelt down and worshipped him right where he lay. Hymn #69 – Away in a Manger, vs 1 Reflection cont'd. After hearing the news, witnessing the event, and expressing their worship, the shepherds' enthusiasm continued. There was no way they could keep this amazing news - this entire joyful experience - to themselves. They joyfully and energetically spread the word which brought joy and amazement to everyone who heard. And, even as they returned to their flocks in the fields, these fellows continued to praise God for this miraculous gift. Now, let us light the Advent candle of Joy to celebrate and to share the ecstasy that the shepherds experienced on that night so long ago. Advent Candle Lighting – Joy (Hope, Peace candles already lit.) Worship Leader/Reader script. (Rosemary/Ilse) Hymn #6 – A Candle is Burning, vs. 3 Just as the shepherds were overjoyed at the news, let us now express our own delight as we joyfully sing ~Hymn #59 – Joy to the World, vs. 1,2 Scripture Lesson Three: Matthew 2: 1-11 (Rosemary) Reflection In our Scripture reading from Matthew's gospel, we met the other group of individuals who had been specifically guided to where they could find this heavenly baby named Jesus. These wealthy and powerful kings from the east were being guided by a glowing star in the sky, one particular star that shone brighter than all the others. These wise men had been studying, not only the stars, but also the words of the prophets who predicted this particular birth. We noticed that when they asked King Herod where this 'ruler who would shepherd the people of Israel' could be found, King Herod became very upset. Those were disturbing words for both the religious and the political authorities. If a king, a ruler, a leader referred to as someone who would 'shepherd the people of Israel' had been born, what did that mean for all of these men who presently held such power?But these kings had travelled quite a ways already, and weren't about to waste any time, so on their way they journeyed, following this brilliant star until it lead them right to the place where Jesus could be found. Once again, we read in the Scriptures about the joy experienced. “When they saw the star, they were overjoyed”. These kings from other lands had prepared for their journey to find Jesus. They brought special gifts as they bowed down and worshipped him. They offered treasures fit for a king - Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Hymn #81 – As With Gladness Men of Old, vs. 1,3
Offering and DedicationHymn #55, vs. 4Offertory PrayerDear Heavenly Father, you gave so much to us, and now we ask that you accept what we bring today in the form of money or time, of talent or service. We joyfully give what we can in order to express to you our praise and thanksgiving. We ask that our gifts may be used to bring joy to others and glory to your name. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen!
Hymn #36 – Angels from the Realms of Glory, vs. 1,2,3
Conclusion We have taken a close look at the ordinary working class - in this case, the shepherds - who were informed of the amazing news of Jesus' birth by angel voices singing in the night. At first they may have been disturbed by this interruption of their bit of leisure time they were enjoying, but decided to respond without hesitation, as they hurried off to discover this news for themselves. There was no time to plan ahead, to prepare by changing their clothes, or arranging for the offering of gifts. All they had to offer was themselves as they knelt to worship the one the angel had referred to as the 'Saviour which is Christ the Lord'. Contrary to the sheep herders in a nearby field, the wise men referred to as kings travelled a distance from the east. And as far as we know, they didn't receive their message directly from an angel, but were guided by a brilliantly shining star and by the prophecy of the prophets. It appeared that these particular intellectuals, scholars who held positions of honour, had made detailed plans before journeying to Bethlehem. They were dressed in their finery and carried expensive gifts. The Gold was associated with Kings; Frankincense was sometimes used in worship; and Myrrh was a perfume used to apply to dead bodies. Isn't it interesting that these particular gifts turned out to be of real significance for Jesus!Also interesting is the fact that God got the attention of these two very different groups of individuals regardless of their proximity or their status. One group accustomed to following orders; the other accustomed to giving orders. What does this tell you and me about God's gift? Does it matter how near or how far; how rich or how poor; how powerful or how powerless an individual is? God's gift is for everyone! Whether we gather for worship in a small country church, a large ornately-decorated cathedral or basilica, a temple or a tent, the message is still the same. “Unto you is born this day a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.” Thanks be to God! AMEN! Let's close our worship today with a joyful rendition of ~ Hymn #48 – Hark the Herald Angels Sing Commissioning & Benediction:As we think about how we will travel through this season - will we be burdened by responsibilities and tasks? Will we grow weary trying to please others? Or will we place our feet on the path and begin our journey to find the birth of something new in our lives? In the middle of the darkness, the light of Christ shines for all. Glory to God in the highest! Alleluia! Amen!
Frances Jones – December 16, 2018 ~ HOPE - PEACE - JOY - LOVE - C H R I S T ~
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - Dec. 9, 20182nd Sunday of Advent - Peace NIVIn the remote past, when I was very young, we had a minister, Mr. Lake, who to my young mind at the time, I considered to be a grey-haired, Grinch-like figure, mostly because he bemoaned the commercialism of this Christmas season, and criticized the centrality of Santa Claus. At the time I thought, “Who criticizes Santa Claus? How can all this preparation and excitement be bad?” Now that I am older, I recognize that old Mr. Lake had a good point. The seculartradition of Christmas giving trains us to indulge ourselves with every material object that we might desire. Maturity teaches that the best gifts are not as easy to touch and obtain. In Christian terms, the best gifts are the intangibles of peace and love. The season of advent is all about anticipation. We anticipate the birth of Christ, the hope of a savior, the purity and potential of a baby to make a fresh start, to make the world right, to make our world right. An ancient meaning of the Hebrew greeting, Shalom, is: May you live in anticipation of the day when God makes things whole again.The problem with a theme of peace is that it is easy to say that we want peace, but despite the amount of time and talk about peace, true peace is elusive. What is it, how does it really feel, and how do I know when I have it? How can I make it last when I find it? Where is that magical place and time where peace is the norm? In a war-torn world is it even possible for humans to conceive of a world at peace and achieve it? Perhaps the real illusion of Christmas is that we want someone else, some human, to give us the peace that we claim to desire with all our heart, when all along peace has been with us all our lives, quietly knocking on the doors of our hearts and minds, saying softly, “let me in, let me in.”There is a line from a song, which suggests that we are “Looking for love in all the wrong places.” (Johnny Lee).Perhaps we also look for peace in all the wrong places. Do we even know what it is that we truly seek? A common definition of peace is freedom from disturbance, quiet and tranquility; freedom from, or the cessation of war or violence. This would seem to be desirable, but for some the very definition of peace implies boredom. Who wants quiet when action is so much more exciting!?As humans, we are a violent lot. There are many causes of war, from the drive for economic advantage, territorial gains, glory and revenge; chivalry, and the protection of person and property; and of course, irreconcilable differences, to name a few. There are just wars, and unjust wars. There are wars near and far. There is an addiction to drama, and the projection of our anger and resentment onto others. It can be argued that war is not the opposite of peace, but a symptom of personal and/or collective pain, that instigates confrontation. Brokenness, and unhappiness, restlessness, jealousy and dismay get us into trouble. We feel scarred and damaged by life. We feel unfairly burdened and defeated by the bumps and beatings that we receive along the road. The generosity of Santa Claus easily overtakes the grace and generosity of the spiritual gift of the babe in the lowly manger. God has a way of making strong statements using the most humble and simple of symbols. The baby, the manger, the animals; who would naturally look for peace and love in this environment and situation? Who can afford to be so naked and vulnerable? For centuries or more Christians have sung and continue to sing, “Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled." It is possible to have sung this so many times that the words do not have a conscious impact. “Hail! The heav'n-born Prince of peace! Hail! The Son of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, Born that man no more may die…” We are called to accept this gift of God. We are called to put ourselves right in our own hearts and minds, put ourselves right with each other, and with God. We are called to give up our addictions to drama and strife, to worry and despair. We are called to assert that the time of anticipation is over, the Christ child has come, in body and in spirit. We are called to practice peace in our own hearts and minds, in our daily lives.This is peace- that we accept the need for a sacred centre to our lives; accept that God has provided a way for us, and all humanity. Not that life will be a perpetual bed of roses, or that all obstacles, real or imagined, will melt away, but that we stand on the firm foundation of Christ’s love; that our hearts and minds are steady and secure, through thick and thin. That brokenness may be healed.A quote by Eleanor Roosevelt is a good summary of these thoughts:“It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”Let us respond to the call of John the Baptist, to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Lord. Welcome new birth, new life, new hope.Thank you, Amen
Message - Frances Jones - Nov. 25, 2018Let it Reign!
Today we experience a double celebration - we bring the church year to a close as we celebrate the Reign of Christ the King, and we open the door to a brand new church year as we will celebrate the beginning of Advent next week.
Now, as we review the reign of Christ the King, let's look at what that might have meant to the Hebrew people over 2000 years ago, and examine what it might mean to us today – both as a group of worshippers, and individually.
The people of Israel had studied the Hebrew Scriptures over many generations. The sacred laws of Moses - the rules that were the very foundation for their living; the prophecies of prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekial, just to mention a few. They also lived through, or learned the history of, various kings – some who were trustworthy; others not so much. But, the big question was, when would this promised Messiah come as their deliverer?
Some of the explanations that the Hebrew people learned concerning the coming Messiah came from the prophet Isaiah: “He will have a Galilean ministry”; “He will be heir to King David”; “He will have his way prepared”; “will be rejected”; and “God's Spirit will rest on him”. And then, even from the Psalms (#78) this proclamation was made: “my people, hear my teaching. I will open my mouth with a parable. I will utter hidden things, things of old.” And then, quoting from the prophet Zechariah: “your king comes to you righteous and victorious – lowly and riding on a donkey – on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Oh, how these people longed for deliverance from the oppression they had endured over a period of many years. So, it's no wonder that they were both seeking, and anticipating, a Messiah who would be their king – a conquering king who would be victorious over their enemy – Roman rule. And it couldn't happen too soon. There was no doubt in their minds that this long-awaited Messiah would set up his kingdom and rule. He would deliver them from this bondage. That was the Messiah they wanted; that was the King they longed for. And, as far as they were concerned, once this Messiah had conquered their enemies and established his kingdom, he would make Israel great again!
The prophecies they had studied proved to be true. Jesus did travel to Galilee where his preaching reached out to, not only the Jews, but to the Gentiles as well. He was a descendent of King David. His way had certainly been prepared by John the Baptist, the shouting preacher whose words, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” rang in people's ears. And when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, there were probably some onlookers standing by who actually witnessed the Spirit of God resting upon Jesus. And we know from reading his many stories that Jesus' form of teaching, especially about what his kingdom was all about, was mainly through the use of parables – earthly stories that the listeners could easily understand, but with heavenly meanings. And, as was prophesied in Zechariah, Jesus did enter the city riding on the colt of a donkey.
However, these crowds of people who followed Jesus around had their own ideas about who and what their king would be. Yes, Jesus was quite a popular fellow with many during the time of his ministry. Everyone loved his almighty power; how he was able to feed huge crowds with a very small amount of food; how he healed the diseased, the sick, the lame and healed the blind, causing them to have real vision. The miracles that he performed were absolutely spectacular! So, of course, he was bombarded with throngs of needy people who followed him around from place to place, always hoping to experience more signs and more wonders - more of whatever he had to offer.
But, there was one particular miracle that was more spectacular than all the others - the miracle that changed the course of Jesus' life on earth. Onlookers watched and listened as Jesus stood by the tomb where Lazarus had been laid. They heard him as he spoke aloud and looked to the heavens, asking for God and the Son to be glorified. These witnesses had to be astounded as Jesus called out, “Lazarus, come out!”. And Lazarus, who had been dead four days already, walked out of the tomb. It has been said that this resurrection lead to death. And so it did!
Naturally, the crowds were unable to keep this news to themselves. How could they possibly keep silent after hearing and witnessing such an event as a resurrection from the dead? The news quickly spread throughout the countryside, and even reached the city of Jerusalem where multitudes were gathering to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. The streets were already buzzing with people bustling about. But now there was something else for them to discuss. 'Who was this man who was capable of raising the dead? If this man called Jesus had the ability to resurrect a body from death, just imagine what he could do for us and to our enemies!'
So, by the time Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, entering the gate riding on the foal of a donkey, the streets were alive with the news of the resurrection of Lazarus. Crowds lined the streets. They sang. They waved palm branches. They shouted, “Ho-sa-nna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
But it wasn't only the crowds who had come to celebrate the Feast who had heard the news. The religious authorities had also received information concerning this resurrection. And they were extremely upset, to say the least. What do you think made these religious leaders more upset – the fact that Jesus had resurrected a dead man, or the fact that the crowds could not keep quiet about it? As the multitudes shouted their praises to Jesus, the religious elite were trying to shut them up. If these crowds that had gathered in the streets decided to give their loyalty to this man, Jesus, what would happen to their power?
But, the crowds could not be silenced. Consequently, the Pharisees handed Jesus over to the Roman authorities to be put to death. How else could they eliminate their competition?
It seems to be clear that both the crowds of people and the religious elite had seriously misundertood what Jesus' reign was really all about. But, do you think that Jesus' words, as he stood humbly before Pontius Pilate, revealed the truth about his kingdom, as he said, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”?What? No kingdom where Jesus would be their ruler, the king who would wipe out all enemies? That's not at all what the Hebrew people had anticipated. Their hearts and minds had been set on the fact that this man was their answer – the one who would fulfill their wants and needs. How difficult do you suppose it was for them to accept that their plans had not materialized? And, when this reality hit them that Jesus was not who and what they expected, how quickly they turned their backs on him – the same man they had just revered as 'the one who comes in the name of the Lord'. All too soon their 'Ho–sa–nna, Ho-sa-nna' turned to 'cru-ci-fy, cru-ci-fy'.
Just as the Hebrew people had their own expectations concerning who Jesus was and what his reign should have meant, don't we too have pre-conceived ideas, opinions, personal views and expectations about the reign of Christ the King today? Personally, do we think of Jesus as a king who reigns – out there somewhere? The Israelites of Jesus' day wanted to be delivered from Roman rule. Maybe we too want Jesus as a conquerer of whatever bondage we are experiencing. Maybe we want him to rule over something more than we want him to rule within.
Jesus united majesty and humilityl We have discovered from his teaching and his example that he was a humble teacher whose messages emphasized peace and love, repentance and forgiveness. He came, not as a conquering king ready for battle, but as an infant, humbly laid in a manger in a barn. He reigned as a servant-king who bowed down before his followers in order to wash their feet. Jesus came as light to a dark world. Indeed, a different kind of king!
How can Jesus' reign of love and peace, of humility and self-sacrifice, be established in this world that we live in today? The reading from Matthew's gospel seems to take the mystery and the secrecy away from God's kingdom. Those who inherit his kingdom are described as those who provide food for the hungry and water for the thirsty; who show hospitality to a stranger, and offer coverings for those in need. They are also those who act as a compassionate caregiver, and who visit the imprisoned.
Also from Matthew's gospel, Jesus reminds us, “. . . inherit the kingdom prepared for you . . .” But sometimes we feel like - Why bother trying to help someone who does not appear to want our help?Why serve if no one notices? What if we offer to serve and we are rejected? Welcome to the servant's world! Welcome to the reign of Christ the King – the model ofhumble service. Instead of being a conquerer, Jesus gave the gift of lovethat conquers all. So, for each one of us, is the reign of Christ the King a personal experience? Do we allow him to rule – not out there somewhere, but right in here – in our places of worship, in our homes and families, in our hearts and minds?
Let us close by saying to Christ our King – let it reign!Let your love flow – in us and through us. Let the fire of the Spirit burn within so that we cannot help but follow the example already set before us. It only takes a spark to light a fire.
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - Nov. 18, 2018End times NIVIt is said that when one door closes, another door opens. The closing of that first door can seem final and threatening. It takes faith to find the other door opening. The scriptures this morning are focused on end times. What exactly are end times and when do they arrive? These are the questions to which no one has clear answers. What question do considerations of end times ask of us? Why do end time references appear year after year in the lectionary? Once again, a few serious verses of scripture take us on a mental journey, hopefully deeper and farther than expected.People have varying ideas of when the end of the world as we know it arrives. When will Jesus return to reign for a thousand magnificent years of peace? During which thousand years will Satan be chained, and Christ reign in glory? Is this happening now? Are we in The time of Tribulation where the true believers enjoy a Rapture and guarantee of salvation? Research indicates that there are millennials, pre-millennials, post-millennials, and even third millennials, persons who consider the return of Christ in either literal and physical terms, and those who consider the story to be an elegant and imaginative metaphor. And variations in between. The main source of these ideas is the book of Revelations, especially Revelation 20:1-6, although our scriptures from Daniel and Mark are also consideredeschatological, apocalyptic, or end times references.Rev. 20: 1-3 states: And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years.3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time.A thousand years seems like a totally inadequate number, when we consider the length of time the world itself has been in existence. There have been many “millennial’ events-- for example, the turn of the wheel of time from 1899 to 1900, from 1999 to 2000, most of which cause widespread anxiety, and renewed questions about the end of the world.Is this “thousand years” yet another metaphorical time period, or a concrete number? Is Jesus a purely historical figure, and the end times the widely anticipated conclusion to a linear chronology, or, is Jesus already here with us and the second coming has already happened in our hearts? Have the thousand years already passed with Satan once again on the loose, wreaking havoc in every nation? Or, are the end times merely a collective projection of hope during difficult times of every age?What does Jesus say?Mark 13 tells us:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?” 5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.It is all too possible to make a strong case that we are globally in the end times here and now, as we speak, with all the wars, guns, drugs, environmental degradation, end of entire species, resistant micro-organisms reacquainting us with incurable diseases, famine, natural disasters, uncontrollable forest fires, and random acts of violence terrorizing every corner. It is all too possible to despair. Watching the daily news becomes a threat to our mental health!At this point in every story of good and evil is the desperate, crying need for a savior; enter the hero, cue the cymbals and horns heralding the knight in shining armor descending on the white horse, armed to overcome all opposition. In Revelations 19: 11-16 we read:19:11Then I sawk heaven standing open, and there was a white horse! Its rider is named Faithful and True. He administers justice and wages war righteously. 12His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many royal crowns. He has a name written on him that nobody knows except himself. 13He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, follow him on white horses. 15A sharp sword comes out of his mouth to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod and tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16On his robe that covers his thigh he has a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.This will be the time of the Messiah as the reigning Christ, as opposed to the suffering servant who died on the cross. Hallelujah! There is a rescuer to save us! However, we still don’t know when “he” will arrive! The other problem with this scenario is that it goes against the idea of a loving God. Are we to be among the few saved in one incident of power and might, as opposed to the death on the cross, where faith sets us all free, or is it a long, slow road to enlightenment, after years of facing the unknown in faithful service and study? Or is this preoccupation with the apocalypse simply our own fear of loss and death? University of Minnesota neuroscientist Shmuel Lissek, who studies the fear system (of the brain), says: “Apocalyptic beliefs make existential threats-the fear of our mortality-predictable.” What is predictable lowers anxiety, even if it is still frightening and inevitable.
In our life as humans there are many endings, literal and otherwise. There is an end of innocence, an end of illusions, an end of youth, an end of employment, an end of relationships, an end of health.And then, what if end times refer to our own demise, the end of our earthly bodies? The fear of death is omnipresent for most humans and there is nothing we can do about it. We need a story that never ends. We need, or want, a sense of power instead of powerlessness. The ending that is most fearful is the end of hope, the end of faith, the end of love. And there are places in our world, near and far, where people have never experienced the stable presence of hope, faith and love. Wherever there are people who are oppressed for no reason except the color of skin, religious belief, ethnic identity, or any other characteristic, there are people asking, Why me? Why us? Where is that knight in shining armor when we need him? Or her?One of the most famous quotes of John F. Kennedy is, (who supposedly is quoting Edmund Burke) “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”There is no doubt of the deep desire for a knight in shining armor, especially to save us from ourselves. Where are these “good men? Unfortunately, many of the best of our heroes have met early death at the hands of evil doers, resistant to positive change. Even if there is no belief in the Devil, there is an endless violent course of events that haunts human life. Fortunately, we are blessed with hope, and faith and love. And the stability of resources that make hope, faith and love possible. Fortunately, despite the fact that we do not know when Christ will return in glory, nor do we know the time of our own farewell to our earthly bodies, we are all able, and perhaps expected, to be knights in shining armor to each other-male and female “Christian soldiers,” to use a warrior-like term that has fallen out of favor. It can be a daily struggle to master our own doubts, our own lack of faith, our own lack of hope, and rise up to share our hopes, our faith, and give our confidence to others so that the eternal victory of love will always win out over evil. But, in the meantime we must act on our faith, act on our hope, act on our confidence in Christ’s love, to overcome and endure, whatever the time it takes!To conclude, Ephesians 6: 10-18 says it best:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.Thanks be to God. Amen
Message - Cynthia Reynolds - Nov. 4, 2018 Dialoguing with Other Faiths Mark 12: 28 – 34 We have been following the gospel of Mark now for some time this year, and we have come to a passage this morning that is preparing us to enter the season of advent. I think now most of you realize that I love the gospel of Mark. Personally, I think all you need is Mark, and within Mark I think this is the only passage you need. This is because it is on love, and what is greater than love? Those of you who heard the service at the Ridge this summer might remember how I said that love is the only message to preach on if you can only preach one message. Love is very summative of Jesus’ mission and message. Love is a message that anticipates the Christmas season. But love is not the context Jesus enters this discussion with the scribe around. Last Sunday we heard Jesus cursing the big tree, he then cleanses the temple, and tells the parable of the wicked tenants. Remember that parable? That’s where Jesus refers to the temple leaders in Jerusalem as the tenants killed the vineyard’s son hoping to inherit the wealth themselves. Not a very nice reference, and the temple leaders do not take kindly to these criticisms that Jesus has of them. Throughout the gospel of Mark, we see that the scribes in particular have had a hard time interacting with Jesus. They reject his preaching at Nazareth, they are angered when he declares all foods clean, and they question his authority to preach scripture. When we get to today’s reading, we know that the scribes are disputing with Jesus, that’s how the text starts, “One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another.” They were disputing matters of taxes and the resurrection. It makes sense that they were disputing these matters because they were trying to get answers about God. This kind of discussion about laws and commandments was a common debate during temple times. We even have this debate today whenever we ask each other “What do you think this passage of scripture means?” Some of us may say this or that, we may agree or not, but we are sharing our thoughts to get a better understanding of God. From this passage, we can see that the scribes were not agreeing with what Jesus had to say, they were unhappy with his explanations and attack of character. All except for one felt this way. This one scribe who should be in opposition to Jesus was impressed with his ability to discuss scripture. So, this scribe decided to interject the disputes with a question. Have you ever heard two people arguing? Have you listen quietly, but thought Wow this person is really wrong, I know where they are coming from but their friend knows way more about this then them. Have you ever wanted to inject and say something or ask a question? Maybe you are a quiet type and never approach strangers, or maybe you’re an extrovert and you just have to get your thoughts out there. Whether bashfully or confidently, the scribe chose to speak up and thank God, he did because the answer to his question is considered one of the jewels of our faith. The scribe’s question was “What is the first commandment?” The answer Jesus gives him can be found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. So, we know the question and the answer are not new, they are common understandings in the Jewish faith. In this question we find common ground, and see the disputing come to a common understanding, which is that Love matters the most. The hostile environment that surrounds Jesus is now filled with mutual respect and agreement. The scribe felt that Jesus answered well, and Jesus felt the scribe answered wisely. Since we know that those listening would have not been surprised by the scribe’s question or Jesus’ answer, why is it then that after watching the interaction they dare not ask him anymore questions? This is the very last interaction they have with him before the crucifixion. Could the common ground that these to ‘opposites’ found have bothered the temple leaders? Maybe, the law to love God and neighbor was being followed better by Jesus and the scribe than it was by the temple leaders and they could not accept this. Either way, the scribe and Jesus loved God with all they were and they loved each other as neighbor with the same love they show themselves. To love our neighbor is no easy task, look how the scribes treated Jesus. But, to love our neighbor is the first commandment and it is made possible because of love for God. I can’t think of a time when we haven’t been called to love our neighbor. Most recently, we can see this call in the tragedy of the Pittsburgh shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. When we look towards our brothers and sisters who worship God under a different name, such as Judaism or Islam, and criticize them, then we act like the scribes who were trying to entrap Jesus. If in people of other faiths, we see the love of God, then they are our neighbor, and we are asked to show them love. It is when we don’t see the love of God as the first commandment to ALL God’s people that we make it hard for ourselves to love our neighbor. Let us also not forget that we have this teaching because someone decided to enter a dispute, to get involved with an argument. So often we are faced with disputes, some of them we see happening around us and some of them are happening in us, and we are not always sure how to deal with them. Living in the country, we don’t have as many neighbors and the city does, and we like to keep peace with the neighbors we do have. But to what extent are we willing to keep this peace? Around us we can sometimes hear comments made about people from different faiths, such as “All Muslims are terrorist” or “They Jewed me.” When we over hear these comments, we make think they are not right, but we don’t necessarily say anything because we don’t want to start any conflict. “They are ignorant,” we may tell ourselves, or we may decide it is not worth correcting our neighbor and creating an awkward environment with them. But we have seen what happens when we keep letting the little things slide, when we sit observing instead of entering the dispute. Hate builds when we don’t stop its small steps in its tracks. The scribe is telling us that if we make the comment or ask the question then we allow for opportunities to find common ground, even if it may disturb the peace. We owe it to our neighbor to show them the love we would want shown to us. Wouldn’t we want to be reminded that those who love God are not our enemies? What happened in Pittsburgh was a hate crime, there is no other term for it. In the gospel of Mark this morning we are asked to counter hate with love. What better way to start doing that than to show it to others who also love God? These two commandments can be found in every religion, they are our common ground to each other. As Christians in this world, it is our calling to show this common ground to all those who may not see it. Although, it may be awkward to do so, we have the chance to counter hate and love our neighbor by leading the down the path of real peace. We give praise to the God who not only loves, but teaches us how to love. Amen. – Cynthia Reynolds
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - Oct 14, 2018 The readings this morning are from the lectionary. They are the readings for last week, which didn’t seem suitable for Thanksgiving. Once I read about Jesus talking about divorce, I was hooked. At first I thought that there was nothing to say. But the idea wouldn’t let me go. Once again, Jesus seems very modern in addressing a relationship issue that is current in our lives today.Marriage is not always the first option for couples today. But marriage is the most stable form of economic and emotional cooperation known to human beings. Every culture has some form of pairing of male and female, whether the arrangement remains permanent or not. In the beginning God provided a helpmate for the man. Genesis 2:18 states that, The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” So, the Lord God, “made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”Genesis 2: 22.Genetic research tracing the origins of humankind to central Africa suggests that Adam and Eve is more accurate than we may have thought. Genesis 2: 24 tells us, of the creation of woman, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” This is the original nuclear family, husband, wife, and the union of the two, which is the child. Relationships require trust and vulnerability. Is anyone home? Who cares for the emotional needs of all members? Is it the woman’s sole responsibility to establish and maintain that nest of safety and security? The numbers of homicide/suicides of mostly men doing violence to the “ex” is disturbing. For the woman who works the family becomes another job in an already challenging schedule. For the man to maintain a “macho” image and let himself be vulnerable can be a challenge. And we wonder who is really guiding the children. I am divorced. The very word is distasteful, and the act is one that is regrettable. We influence each other in profound ways, and the traces that surely remain are both physical and emotional.The Canadian statistic for rates of divorce suggest about 40% of couples will end their partnership after a certain period of time. It is commonly said that in the US the rate is 1 of every 3 marriages will end in divorce, although the rates have apparently stabilized recently.There are in fact many forms of divorce. It is possible to be divorced from ourselves, divorced from family, divorced from society and divorced from God. Divorced from our human nature and our spiritual nature. Even divorced from Mother Nature.Not so long ago, couples would remain together, “for the children,” or because of financial necessity. The divorced or unmarried woman with children is much more vulnerable financially, often facing poverty. For the married man, the idea of dividing assets after years of work is unacceptable. The modern dilemma is that for some, their marriage is in name only; for others, they are legally divorced, but still married in their heart and mind and faithfulness to the absent spouse. Obviously, there were relationship problems in ancient Palestine, since the Pharisees “came and tested Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus refers to Moses, going back even further. The “war of the sexes” has ancient precedents. “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law.”Mark 10: 8.At first glance I thought that Jesus was saying, “Thou shalt not divorce,” but the point that Jesus makes is found in Mark 10: 9. “Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate.” Divorce is division. Jesus is emphasising that with God there is oneness, wholeness. And that wholeness is sacred. God is Love. In divorce some people say that Love died. Love did die, and rose again. God’s Love is eternal.So the real problem of divorce is the utter fragmentation of stable social structures. We have a wealth of relationship choice unknown to previous generations, but also a wealth of alienation, disorientation, cynicism, loss of hope, faith and love, loss of community, loss of status, loss of emotional and financial stability, loss of health and home and family. We have children coming home to empty houses, homeless men, and stressed working women. The emotional and social costs of family distress are beyond calculation. Of course partnership doesn’t guarantee support & understanding. Despite the multiple means of communication available today, the ease of travel, the effects of globalization, and so-called sexual freedom, there is presently a worldwide epidemic of loneliness, and widespread reports of people dying alone. There is a cynical saying that if you want to be lonely, get married. It is remarkable that we are so often unschooled in how to choose and then how to live with a mate. To generalize: Of course, we may be rebellious, we are impatient. We follow our hormones instead of our higher intentions. We are deceived by the glow of “romance.” We think we are mature before we have coped with any of life’s challenges. We think that there is only one form of love. But marriage is good for us all. Studies suggest that married men live longer than non-married men. It is good to have someone with whom to share meals, to have someone to talk to, to accept us as we are, and share the load. To like each other even if “the thrill is gone.” That is an accomplishment indeed. And yet we know that for some it is just a matter of survival, in the school of hard knocks. We all have our reasons.For children of divorce there is confusion and change. Isn’t it interesting that immediately following the discourse on divorce there is the description of the disciples limiting access of the children to Jesus, as if children are a bother. We are scolded and reminded with the disciples that, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15. We are all children of God the Father. We are part of God’s family.Marriage involves presenting ourselves before God and our community. Too often, after marriage we put God on the back burner and become preoccupied with the demands of daily family life. It is too easy to grow apart. Divorce is the symptom of separation that has already occurred; An apparent failure to love. ― Khalil Gibran, The Prophet, offers some wisdom: “When love beckons to you follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him, Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden. For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning. Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your most tender branches that quiver in the sun, So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth...... Love is worth the effort. Love endures. Our hearts must not be hard. We must be committed to live and love, and courageously live and love some more. We must nurture the health and wholeness of our lives, to share that health and wholeness with those whom we love. We must know that we first belong to God, belong in the family of God, blessed with the confidence of being unconditionally loved, confident of our place in the community and everlasting arms of God. Let Hebrews 1:11 have the last word: “Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.” Thanks be to God. Amen
Message - Sermon from 43rd. General Conference Sermon for 43rd General Council Opening Worship 1 “You Feed Them!” Sermon for 43rd General Council Opening Worship Sunday, July 22, 2018 The beginning of my call to ministry happened when I travelled to Palestine with the church nearly 10 years ago. The partners we visited, the people we met showed me how crucial hope is to life. They do not have the luxury of despair. To live in that land, surrounded by walls and checkpoints, while holding onto the keys to the homes before 1948, is to hope. “Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.” In the World Council of Churches, where folks gather from all over God’s broken and beautiful world, I witness that life-giving hope. From the Pacific where people are sounding the alarm of rising waters and loss of sea life, to the Middle East where Christians are being persecuted for what they believe, to Europe where migrants are arriving seeking refuge, people of faith dare to hope for God’s coming kingdom. A faith that risks and a hope that dares a new world. “Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.” 30 years ago, the year I was born, our United Church of Canada decided to ordain and commission openly gay and lesbian ministers. We began a daring pilgrimage that continues. At a time when the scientific world and popular culture were largely homophobic, we affirmed that all baptized people are beloved children and servants of God, not regardless of sexual orientation, but celebrating the beauty of our diversity, welcoming people to offer their gifts, our gifts. “Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.” A pilgrimage of faith, a pilgrimage that risks hope, a pilgrimage that seeks justice and peace—that is what Jesus called the first disciples to join. Jesus dared to send them out with all that they needed: authority to heal, sandals, a staff, and someone to accompany them. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus sent out disciples, knowing God’s mission in the world takes time and takes community. He told them to accept hospitality wherever they found it, to be fed by their hosts, and in return, to share the good news of God’s kingdom. Evangelism was not about maintenance or survival; their pilgrimage was about taking risks for the sake of the gospel. “Send them away.” “No, you do it, you feed them.” After being away on pilgrimage, the disciples came home to Jesus to share stories, to rest, to be apart with their teacher. They were excited by what God had done through them and they were tired. Jesus was too. After receiving hospitality along their travels, they just wanted to be led by still waters. Then the disciples saw the crowds and thought, “Oh no, not now!” Yet, Mark tells us, Jesus had compassion for the crowd of thousands; something in his gut churned, and he knew that he was needed for the world, and not only for his small group of disciples. However, his friends weren’t too keen. They could only imagine one way this could work out. They had neither Sermon for 43rd General Council Opening Worship 2 food nor money enough to provide. “Send them away,” they told Jesus. Jesus didn’t let them off the hook but gave them yet another mission: “No, you do it, you feed them.” This is a pilgrimage that takes risks in faith and dares to hope with compassion in God’s world. With two fish and five loaves, Jesus, the good shepherd, sits down on the green grass, and all ate and all were filled. As in the time of Moses, when manna came from heaven, as in the time when Jesus and the disciples sat around a table, as in the promised time where all will feast at God’s banquet, there will not just be enough. There will be an abundance. Provisions are given, thanks are offered, bread is shared, and all are fed. This is a pilgrimage that takes risks in faith and dares to hope with compassion in God’s world. As proud as I am to be part of our United Church, as honoured and privileged as I feel to share good news with you today as we gather on our pilgrimage, I worry. I worry that we congratulate ourselves for being more committed to justice, more committed to valuing all peoples and encouraging intercultural communities, than our denominational neighbours down the road. I worry that we are quick to say, “Oh yes, Jesus, we’ll feed them,” but then don’t accept the gifts the “hungry,” those on the margins, bring to the feast. I worry that we say we seek right relations with Indigenous peoples yet try to water down our responsibilities. I worry that we use people to show how diverse we are but then ignore their struggles of daily service. I worry that we keep a tight grip on “our resources” without realizing or celebrating that all we have was first shared by God. I worry that we would tell Jesus to “send them away” because we feel we are not enough. And I worry that, in the midst of changing structures and seeking to do church “differently,” we forget that we are not alone. We forget that we have gifts to offer, but we don’t have everything and we need companions on this pilgrimage. We forget that structures are not our mission but are here to enable our mission for this time and place. We forget that we are the ones to feed and share with each other. We forget that we are called to take risks in faith and dare to hope with compassion in God’s world. And yet, my worries, my struggles, dissipate when I am invited into the upper room with Jesus and the disciples. In my favourite gospel, John, Jesus takes off his garment, wraps a towel at his waist, pours water into a basin, and washes his dear disciples’ feet. Jesus shows us how to act with humility and vulnerability, in service and love. My worries dissipate when Jesus hosts his dear disciples at table, when he blesses, breaks, and gives bread; blesses, pours, and gives wine, with humility and vulnerability, in service and love. The church, we dear disciples in the world, does not have the luxury of despair—our hope, throughout time and today, remains steadfast in Jesus Christ, our servant shepherd. Along this pilgrimage where we are called to take risks in faith and dare to hope, we are washed, fed, and renewed with the life of Jesus by the grace of God. Along this pilgrimage, as we encounter others, Jesus calls to us: “You feed them, feed them with compassion and hope.” —Rev. Miriam Spies Mark 6:6b–13, 30–44
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