Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - July 14, 2019 What must I do to have Eternal Life? Who is my Brother? Who is my Neighbor? The scripture of Luke asks these fundamental questions, which persist despite much personal and philosophical consideration across the ages. Scripture always has something to teach us, however familiar the stories may be. Recently, on the street, I ran into an acquaintance, who in the course of our conversation, made a statement that I found totally surprising. She said something like this: “I don’t like conflict, so I leave any group where people are not getting along.” I responded by saying that I didn’t know of any group that didn’t have conflict of some kind…the conversation petered out shortly after, and I was left feeling that she was missing out on deepening any and every relationship; And left feeling that the whole process of interpersonal communication remains a mystery, a challenge, and a miracle. The Christian doesn’t have the luxury of avoiding conflict. Scripture is explicit in describing desired behaviors, such as(Luke 12:57-59),quoting Jesus,21You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to the fire of hell. 23Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Luke 17:3) further advises,So watch yourselves. "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.
/2 In my experience this is often easier said than done. I do not know many who welcome feedback of this kind. Despite our best intentions, we are usually protecting our own egos. In these situations I pray for super amounts of tact and courage. It always seems to be damned if you confront the person and damned if you don’t. We all have our preferred methods, passive, assertive, aggressive, indifferent, defensive, or mature and graceful. Communication is a slippery eel. To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he tells us that,We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. In other words, there will always be someone who needs something from us, people who, in moments of impatience, we might label “difficult and needy,” who make demands on our time and energy. The Good Samaritan was interrupted on his journey and his plans were changed; and of course, the man who was robbed, stripped and beaten was definitely interrupted in his journey, apparently minding his own business and just randomly selected to experience an evil onslaught. Perhaps we can identify with either, or with both! The twelve verses of Luke 10: 25-37 are the practical essence of the Christian message in a nutshell. These twelve verses are like a Broadway play, with six characters, including Jesus, inferred Mosaic Law and the more global moral considerations suggested by Jesus, both of which entreat us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” The teacher of the Law asks two key questions for all of us. What must I do to earn eternal life? And who is my neighbor? In true Socratic fashion, Jesus answers these questions with questions. /3 Jesus does not indulge in lengthy discussion of ethical theory, but illustrates his message of right behavior through this classic parable of the injured man by the side of the road. It is easy to identify with the man who is robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. Life has a way of threatening to remove (or removing) the things and persons most near and dear to us. When I was younger and first introduced to the idea of the Good Samaritan, I thought that the point was to be as much as possible like the Good Samaritan. Only to then be overwhelmed by needs near and far, needs that I could never hope to fulfill by myself, without human or Divine assistance. In our “Job moments” we may crave a Good Samaritan, a rescuer who heals our wounds and gives us hope. The website catholicculture.org states that St. Augustine identified the Good Samaritan as Jesus, and the “wayward man” as Adam, or all of mankind. It seems so obvious, why didn’t I think of that before? We can also identify with the priest and Levite, who, as educated and elite men, with more resources than most at that time, noticed, but moved to the other side of the road, to avoid any involvement. When the question, “Who is my brother, who is my neighbor” is asked, it is an avoidance of being implicated in the actual care of that person. The person asking is trying to avoid the responsibility for the Other. This is the ethical dilemma of walking past the homeless person, mentally ill person, or other lost soul lying on the sidewalk or begging for money. Or, even someone in our own small community-We know better, but as Paul describes in Romans 7: 18, 19, For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. /4 Even the innkeeper has his role, providing shelter and food, a home away from home. This represents automatic hospitality, one of the highest values in many cultures. Enemy or not, stranger or familiar, everyone has the need/right of basic care and comfort. Matt. 7: 1-3reminds us, Judge not that ye be not judged.“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? Jesus is the ultimate Good Samaritan, we are the everyday Adams, the wayward persons subject to the trials and tribulations of life. Some of us make a career of it, others do their best a little at a time. It is a lifelong journey and practice. In an age of “me-first” narcissism we need good Samaritans more than ever. In our story, Luke 33 tells us that the Samaritan, “when he saw him, he took pity on him.” A feeling which immediately translated into action. The front cover of this month’s Maclean’s magazine is of the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Adern, hugging a Muslim woman after the attacks on the Christchurch mosques. The caption is “Join the Compassion Revolution, or we’re all doomed.” The 4 ½ pages of the article describe the lack of compassion in politics, medicine, and society as a whole. “Ardern, and her call for “kindness over fear,” as she put it in a United Nations address last fall, is viewed by many as a flower growing through concrete at a time of rising isolationism, tribalism, racism and authoritarianism.” (pg. 49 Maclean’s July 2019) Although kindness is proven to improve health recovery rates, and improves the bottom line in business, there is an epidemic of cruelty
/5 and indifference, and an increase in people wearing clothing with the words, “I don’t care.” Kindness now has to be taught. In a world where the mythology is that we each become a self-made person, or pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, it is humbling and realistic to confess how much we are interdependent, giving and receiving untold amounts of help over lifetimes of effort and good works. We are good Samaritans to each other, we are innkeepers, we are hurt pilgrims, we are the leaders and teachers who may hesitate to go where angels fear to tread. We are called to answer the question that Jesus poses. We are called to care. Who is my neighbor? It is Mr. Miss and Mrs. Anyone. Anytime. Anyplace. In practice we all make judgments about the Who, Why, When, and Where of helping. Once we make up our mind to help, the How usually can be figured out. Edward Everett Hale, American author and Unitarian minister, has a quote that is appropriate to this theme: I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/edward_everett_hale_393297 Let us obey the higher calling to do what we can with what we have. Let us do the right thing and care with kindness.
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - June 23, 2019 In an article on-line by Antonia Blumberg (HuffPost), she writes that, “According to data released by Amazon on the most highlighted passage in Kindle ebooks, the most popular passage from the Bible is one on reducing anxiety and finding trust in God.” The specific passage is Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), which states,6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. We are now in the season of Ordinary Time. During this period between the Easter season and Advent, we have 33 weeks to decide: What makes our ordinary daily lives extra-ordinary? What is the difference between being a good ordinary person, and being a good Christian person, day by day? We have celebrated the resurrection and received the Holy Spirit; Now what? How do we celebrate and demonstrate the Love of Christ from Pentecost to Advent? Between June and November, there are no major church events to anticipate, no celebrations to mark the passage of days. So, as Christians, what do we do? Accepting the resurrection, and receiving the Holy Spirit changes us, and separates us from the world. We are reunited with the Sacred; Eden is restored, at least symbolically, in our hearts and minds, as our commitment allows. We are reminded in the 10 Commandments to, “have no other Gods before me.” Do we live in an age of anxiety or not? In the 1940s W. H. Auden wrote a book length poem, called The Age of Anxiety. The title became more famous than the book, which apparently is difficult to read to the end. He addresses the /2 irreversible effect of change which war brings, and how we are all self-conscious actors going insecurely through life. Then, the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima raised global anxiety to another level. In reality anxiety is nothing new to the human race. In the remote past, we had mastodons and dinosaurs to contend with. In other ages and times, we had plagues and famines to contend with. Now we are more familiar with superbugs and climate change. There are always threats, real or imagined, that disturb our peace of mind. Change is the only constant. Tragedies over which we have no control are on our hearts and minds daily, thanks to our 24/7 news media. In our own cities, in an age of affluence for some, others are hard pressed to find the bare necessities work, food and housing. Anxiety is closely related to distrust, which is epidemic in our time. Combined with financial stress, emotional stress is a major source of worry for many, and easily becomes a vicious cycle. Stephen M. R. Covey, (son of Stephen Covey who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), wrote The Speed of Trust (2008). I quote from one summary: There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. That one thing is trust. /3 Trust is emotional safety. As Christians, we have the advantage of belief, and some expression of our committed spirituality through participation in a Christian community. This gives us a strong basis for a resilient faith. Hebrews11: 1, 2, gives us the classic definition: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. The fact that we call ourselves Christian is extra-ordinary. This is our freedom, but also our responsibility. How often are we like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, after the resurrection, walking and talking with the risen Christ, who remained a stranger until the breaking of bread! We are called to live a Christ-centred life; to put God first, all other choices second. Mark 10: 17-22 gives us a vivid illustration: 17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[a]” 20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” 21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. We must have our priorities straight. Wealth is a blessing. God is the source of all abundance. This is the radical message, that Love is primary, Love is the foundation, Love is the purpose. The ability to love, through thick and thin, is the only security.
/4 As followers of Jesus, we are the bread broken for others. In an age of “Me first,” this also is extra-ordinary. In Philippians 2: 12-15, 12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. We are called to the care also for ourselves, in the renewing of our minds and hearts,as inRomans 12: 1-2:Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. The eternal questions of life are answered by faith, a deep trust in God. Who am I? A beloved child of God. What is my purpose? To Love. What is my freedom? That I am forgiven as I confess my sins. Who do I trust? I trust in the Holy Spirit and the grace of God that fills and blesses my life. Who am I going to call? I call on the Lord, who is my help and my redeemer. Not everyone finds the answer in a Christ-centred life. Scripture is full of advice against distractions that seem like pleasant fixes, but lead away from truth. The seven deadly sins: no lust, no gluttony, no greed, no sloth, no wrath, no envy, no pride, and “No other gods before me.” Remarkable, that what seemed like nagging scripture, and the sinfulness of every tempting activity, is now the truth that sets me free! /5 1 Peter 3: 15, 16 advises, 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. In this long period of so-called Ordinary time, let us continue to be extra-ordinary in our God-fearing, generous, patient and helpful ways, as we grow in faith, grow in stamina and the confidence that belief in God can bring. In the words of Matthew 7: 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.26 May the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. (Book of Common Prayer).
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - June 9, 2019 Today is a dramatic day, the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost, the 50th day after Easter. Imagine waiting as the followers of Jesus were told to wait for the helper that was promised. Imagine waiting in a group of like-minded people, believers and followers of Christ, not knowing what to expect, when a roaring wind and tongues of flame appear, and everyone starts talking in a variety of languages. This can be a characteristic of Pentecostal churches, and is considered a sign that the Holy Spirit is directing the event, active in the individuals involved. As eager as some people are to “speak in tongues,” speaking in tongues is not required as evidence that we have the Holy Spirit. Perhaps speaking in tongues is a special gift not given to everyone. Perhaps this event is a way that the spirit becomes manifest, a kind of spiritual ecstasy. Perhaps this is a distraction. Is it the Spirit talking, and how do we know? What are they saying? Do we need an interpreter? I think we would all be surprised if any of us suddenly started talking in tongues. Communication is difficult enough even when we are all speaking the same language. We have been suffering the effects of the tower of Babel for a long, long time. Since we here today are all baptized Christians and regular church goers, it is safe to assume that we have all been blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. In some congregations this would mean that we are all “born again,” although this is not a term that is usually heard among us. Intentionally or not, we do invoke the Holy Spirit to be with us as we worship in the name of Christ. What, or Who, is the Holy Spirit? Matter or Spirit, person or essence? How to nail down the idea, the Reality of the Holy Spirit? /2 Is that even necessary? Is it all just a matter of faith, to “only believe?” This is the challenge, to explain the Holy Spirit to someone else, Christian or non-Christian, believer or non-believer. The Spirit has been present, and recorded in scripture, from the very beginning. Genesis 1: 1,2,In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. In Hebrew, this is described as “Ruach Elohim,” literally the spirit, wind or breath of God. And there are many references to the Spirit of God throughout the Hebrew bible or OT. Some would question whether this is the Holy Spirit of Christianity, but the example of verses from Ezekiel 36:26-27describe the Holy Spirit as I understand it. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. The Holy Spirit of Christianity is one third of the mystery of the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and the same, in differing aspects, a mystery of its own, and equally difficult to explain definitively. Luke 1: 35 describes the Holy Spirit working at another beginning. 35 The angel answered (Mary), “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. The birth of Jesus was the beginning of a new story, the story of the saving grace of the Messiah, the story of one Holy man who offered freedom and forgiveness to all, forgiven lives that could know true freedom.
/3 The Holy Spirit appears again as a significant part of the baptism of Jesus. We read in Matthew 3:16-17: 16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Ideally, Aren’t all babies sacred and special in their mother’s eyes? Doesn’t every culture have rituals that signify the child’s place in the universe? Are we not all born children of God? Therefore, are we not also all full of the Holy Spirit? Or, is it only by the intentional naming and ritual presentation of ourselves to the Holy that we become “saved?” This is the importance of baptism, when we are presented in our community of belief, to God. As believers we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, who is then supposed to fill us with this Godly, spiritual essence. How do I know that I have the Holy Spirit in me? Can I claim to be full of the Holy Spirit? What would that look like? How would I behave? Is my life being led by the Holy Spirit? 1 Corinthians 3:16 asks this question: 16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? How will I know if I am not told? Here we confront the Great Commission, which at one time was to preach the Gospel to the great unwashed and uneducated, somewhere else, whereas it can no longer be assumed that those close to us are aware of spiritual gifts. After the baptism of Jesus, we move from the Spirit of God, present everywhere and always, to the Life and Death of the Son, who, after the resurrection, promises to send the Holy Spirit. John 14: 16, 17,states, 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever-- 17 the Spirit of truth. /4 The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. Lives are changed by Christ and by the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5: 22-23: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. These are the characteristics and behaviors that show that I am following a spiritual guide, following a spiritual path, listening to an inner Helper and Comforter. We also have the benefit of Scripture, as a key resource and source of comfort and instruction as well. 2 Timothy 3: 16, 1716 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a]may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. The Holy Spirit is in my life due to the choice of my parents to baptize me, my own choice as an adult to accept the freedom in Christ that forgiveness gives, the choice to accept the premise and promise that Christ has filled me with the Holy Spirit, the choice to study the Scriptures and be inspired by the Word, the choice to participate in a believing community where love and fellowship are evident, the choice to listen to the inner workings of loving guidance that distinguishes between right and wrong, the choice to be in relationship with the sacred, and the commitment to live by these values and accept the consequences. Or, like the prodigal son, to return to the fold after a time of exploration, rebellion or self-will. This certainly didn’t happen all at once, but has been a slow fermentation process over most of my adult life. Not everyone makes these choices. Is it the Holy Spirit that quietly guides us to make sensible decisions? Why do some listen and others do not? Are we wrestling with the Holy Spirit during some of our most difficult times without even realizing the work of the sacred in our lives? /5 It takes wisdom and time to progress from a prodding idea, which may build to a passion, then to actions reflective of commitment. Deuteronomy 30:19 gives us the choice: This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. The Holy Spirit is my best self, and my best friend, the best gift. The Holy Spirit is available to all. There is an almost identical quote that occurs in both the Old and the New Testament, that relates to the gift of the Holy Spirit.Joel 2: 28:And afterward,I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy,your old men will dream dreams,your young men will see visions. and Acts 2: 17:In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. As John 8: 32 states: 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Holy Spirit, love divine, glow within this heart of mine. Kindle every high desire, purify me with your fire.... Holy Spirit, peace divine, still this restless heart of mine. Speak to calm this tossing sea, grant me your tranquility. —from "Holy Spirit, Truth Divine" (Voices United 368), words Samuel Longfellow 1864,
I titled the message “Eternity” this morning because I thought we could explore the idea of forever, of always, of infinity. As humans, we love the notion of eternity. From a young age we read stories that end happily ever after or forevermore. Perhaps even as young children the need for eternity comes from the fear we have of endings. And even as we become adults, we don’t want what is good to end, we don’t want what we have built foundations on to disappear. This is true for the people in our lives who we wish could stay with us forever whether they be our parents or friends. This is also true concerning our very own lives. We will fight and struggle to live as long as we can, both biologically [the body is not built to give up] and psychologically [the mind fears the unknown]. Of course, there are those few humans who can stare the end in the face and accept it softly, but as a whole I don’t think that is the general truth. We are afraid of the unknown and the end of what has been. We also hate endings to events in our lives as well as losing people. Sometimes people dread retiring...what we will they do now with their time? Some teenagers dread leaving high school and the building/family that had taken them through such crucial years in their lives. The end of any era can be very sad, whether it’s saying goodbye to a home we have lived in for many years, watching a familiar tree being cut down or, arriving at the end of a really good story, which most recently happened with the television show Game of Thrones. I bring this up not only because I am a fan of the show and sad it has ended, but because it illustrates so well how hard people had accepting this end. There were actual psychologists making themselves available online for people to contact if they were finding it difficult to process the fact that it was all over, never to return again...and this trauma some people experienced was only over a T.V. show. As humans, we never want the party to end so to speak, but alas, in life there are endings and we have to experience them, willing or naught. Yet, to comfort us during these experiences, to shield our hearts from the pain and to protect our minds from the despair of what the end feels like, we have this beautiful word and it is the word eternity. But what does it mean? What are we telling ourselves when we talk about forever? Eternity is defined as unending time. It does not function in what we have built around us. Eternity doesn’t have Mondays and Thursdays, it doesn’t have 5 O’clock and midnight, it doesn’t have 1965 or 2019. Eternity is outside of time, with no beginning and no end; just continual existence. While we in this world experience births, growing pains, and death, eternity encompasses our life and sees only transitions. It would be so nice to feel only transitions, but our beings feel the joy and pain that comes with all change. Yet, in our very brains, we are able to conceive of transitions even though we do not experience them. For example, when a babe is born we can conceive that their soul came from a place before ours with God, and when someone dies we can conceive that their soul is returning to whence it came from to forever rest with God. We can understand birth and death as change in an eternal existence even when we feel like we are experiencing the beginning or the ending. But it is not just in our brains that we can conceive of eternity. God has helped us to imagine the eternal by revealing it to us in scripture. The gospel of John tells us that God has given us eternal life, that we will live forever in God and that we will never really die. The Psalms write of how we will have a heart forever, an inheritance forever, and how we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. The Psalms say, “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” and “you are the same and your years have no end”. Jeremiah tells us that “he is the living God and the everlasting king”. And Isaiah says, “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” and he also says most interestingly, that God “inhabits eternity”. From this we know we believe in a God that did not begin and will never end. A God that does not track time but is timeless. But knowing about or understanding eternity does not mean we grasp it. Being able to imagine something is not the same as experiencing it. Perhaps this is why in his Farewell Discourse, Jesus had to tell his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, to not let their hearts be afraid. At this point, the disciples have literally given everything of themselves to a cause and a man. They have left their families behind, have quit their jobs, have let go of any comfort they knew and now Jesus is telling them that he will leave them soon. It must have felt like their journey and purpose was coming to an end itself. The miracle-working, social-revolutionary, fountain-of-love leader and teacher who has been with them from the start is about to die, to stop existing. We try to imagine what that must have felt like for them, maybe like a child losing a parent, a student losing a teacher, a lover losing their partner...but I don’t think we can really imagine fully that feeling of despair they must have had. The disciples’ hearts were right to be troubled and afraid; this wasn’t just another goodbye to family and friends, this wasn’t the loss of a job or a house. For them this was the end everything. It felt like their ministry and pilgrimage was coming to an end and they did not know what would happen after Jesus left them. We read too this morning of John, the visionary author of the Book of Revelation. Has anyone read Revelation through? If you have, you know it is a vision with many endings, where all we know in this universe ceases to exist. It’s interesting to note that the book’s author, John, is writing this vision very much during a time of endings himself. He has seen the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem and has bore witness to Jewish and Christian communities that are displaced, unorganized and persecuted. He is writing this vision on an island called Patmos, where he was alone and cut off from everyone. This isolation, this destruction, it must have created great fear in John, fear that we sense in his vision of many endings. They really are terrible endings too, with fiery pits and hail storms of blood that destroy all the Earth and people. As far as endings are concerned, John gives us an epic tale. There’s even a part with a dragon in it. The dragon tries to devour a baby at the moment of its birth, but before the dragon can do so the angel Michael and a group of his angel friends show up to fight the dragon. But they cannot defeat it and the dragon continues to chase the woman giving birth and just before it can get to her she grows wings and flies away. So yes... if you haven’t taken the time to read the book of Revelation I can confirm with you today that there are dragons in the Bible, and if that’s the only thing you take away from this today I think I’m ok with that. Revelation can be almost fun and exciting, if it wasn’t also really terrifying. If I asked you to imagine an apocalypse, would it be as destructive as Revelation? Maybe, maybe not. The ending of the world that John envisions is uniquely terrible, and perhaps that’s because he himself is experiencing an end that feels just as evil and absolute. He fears the loss of his life, the loss of the communities he once knew, of the friends he once spent time with. And most of all, he fears what will come after all the dust has settled down and the demolition of the world is finished. But as endings come our way, whether in visions or realities, whether with Jesus’ departure or the end of the world, we are left still with this word: eternity. Even in our darkest moments, humans can believe that life will continue to go on. This morning’s scriptures tell us of this continual existence of life. In John’s vision, where all is destroyed, the world does not end, but becomes a temple of God whose light shines on all things. Life is made anew, transformed into a Jerusalem that shines like crystal with gates that are always open. We read not of destruction, but of change, as heaven comes to Earth where Kings bring only glory to the people. The Spirit of God never abandoned its creation, rather in the New Jerusalem, it is the spring of the water of life that is given to the thirsty. The Spirit of God never abandoned John as it carried him through the carnage away to the great high mountain so that he could see the holy city. And in our other reading, we see with the disciples that their mission is not finished even though Jesus leaves them. They continue on with the peace of Christ by their side, a peace that no longer comes from Jesus who has been their human leader, but a peace from the Holy Spirit who will now teach them as they move forward. They were not losing but gaining from this Farewell. Their journey did not end but now had more focus and purpose. When you really look at today’s passages, you see that we are reminded of the eternal world of God. Although they are filled with images and stories of this human material world, they are calling out to that invisible reality that speaks of forever and always. And a common aspect they both share to do this, is the Spirit. When you think about it, every Sunday could just be one sermon after another about the Spirit. The Spirit was there at creation, it was the mighty wind that swept over the faces of the water. It was the spark that lit the bush for Moses. It was what made Saul begin to prophesy. It is what carried Ezekiel to Chaldea. It is what blesses us in baptism, what heals us in communion, it is the one thing that is always truly with us. And knowing it is always with us, how could we then not conceive of the Spirit as anything but eternal? The Spirit is eternity. The Spirit is what brought our souls here to Earth and what will one day take us away to the other realm. The Spirit is what Jesus gave his disciples when they feared his end because he knew the Spirit would always remind and teach them of his eternity. The Spirit is what showed John that although all may be falling down around you, you are not alone, the world has not ended, and there is a holy city where God wipes the tears from our eyes and where mourning and pain will be no more. The Spirit is what speaks to us at each finale we encounter in our lives and whispers to us...this is not the end! John’s gospel says in 3:6-8 “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again”. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”. ‘You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going’...does that not sound like trying to grasp eternity? We know God’s world is eternal, we have faith, but we can’t always tell where that eternity came from or how it will come to be. But the Spirit lets us know it is real just the same. Born again in the Spirit, it allows us to take hold of the eternal so that we need not be afraid or trouble our hearts. We need not fear the end or the unknown, for all things are known and exist in the Spirit. Now if at this point, if you’re still thinking about how awesome it is that there’s dragons in the Bible, I don’t mind, but there’s just one other thing I really hope you take away from this discussion on eternity today, and it’s this quote I saw in one the commentaries I was reading. It says, “God has put a passion for eternity in man’s heart and then has given to him a thirst which only eternity can satisfy”. We thirst for the ever after, the forever, because eternity is the Spirit that God placed in our soul. That’s why when we encounter change, such as death, loss, displacement, reordering, we sense that the eternal may not be true... and so we fear, we grieve, we despair. But I hope that going forward, whenever we encounter these moments of change in our lives that we open our minds like the gates in New Jerusalem, and allow the Spirit to teach us and remind us that we are simply thirsting for what God has already guaranteed in our hearts. And this thirst will be satisfied if we turn away from our fear and let the wind blow on our face and in our soul. The Spirit has revealed to humans before us the promise of eternity and if we look to it also, it will reveal the same to us. The Spirit will show us what forever means, it will allow us to experience transitions in life, and it will allow us to grasp an eternal God. No human experience is a match to its timeless wisdom. I wish to leave us with the words of Paul this morning 1 Cor 2:6-13: 6 Yet among the mature we do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. 7 But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”-- 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.
Eternity is a gift bestowed on us by God and taught through the wisdom of the Spirit. So this morning Lord, let us give praise to this Spirit who always was, who always is, and who always will be. Amen.
Message - Frances Jones - May 19, 2019 Unexpected Encounters
Have you ever met someone, or even a group of people, and then later realized that this particular encounter turned out to be quite significant in your life – and possibly in the lives of the ones you met – although you may never know what effect it may have had on others.
Today I have invited Paul and Gilbert to share the story of their particular encounter with you. They were our guests at Women's Fellowship Group on April 25, and after hearing their story, I thought it should be shared with others because it was indeed an unexpected encounter.
~ Paul and Gilbert ~
The encounter that we heard about between these two individuals, Paul and Gilbert, might remind us of something similar that happened in our own lives, and I invite you to share any such experience with us now. ~ Sharing time ~
From Bible stories that we've heard concerning individuals' unexpected encounters, we might think about the fishermen being called away by Jesus to change their occupation from what they were accustomed to doing to becoming fishers of men. This changed not only their own lives, but the lives of many others. Did they ever expect such a thing to happen?
I'm sure you can think of many such stories – like Mary Magdalene's encounter with a forgiving Jesus, and how she was transformed right there in the street, changing her life completely from that day onward. And the way Saul was changed while on his way storming down the road toward Damascus to do away with Christians. He turned from being an aggressive offender of Christianity to become Paul, a dedicated defender of the cause.
I can't help but think about the woman who encountered Jesus unexpectedly at the well where she went to draw water. Why did she go at that particular time of day? Wasn't it interesting that Jesus happened to be there at that well at the same time? Once Jesus had told her all about her life, things that she probably thought no one else knew, and after he had offered her living water, she couldn't run fast enough to share the news with everyone she met. Was this man the Messiah? She was so excited from this unexpected encounter that she left her water jug right there beside the well. This news was so much more important than her original plan to draw water.
And from our Scripture reading today, we heard Peter explaining a peculiar, but transforming, dream that he had had about all these different types of animals gathered into a sheet. When he heard the voice say, 'Get up, Peter, kill and eat', he was confused. How could this be? They, meaning his race and culture, did not believe it was right to eat such creatures. It was what they had been taught. However, this unexpected encounter enlightened Peter's understanding about what he had heard his Lord say. “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit”. Remembering discussions about the practice of circumcism versus those who chose uncircumcism, Peter began to think more deeply about his own beliefs. Had God given forgiveness, acceptance and love even to the Gentiles, even if they didn't follow the same religious rituals as Peter? Apparently so! And, after his meetng with Cornelius, the Roman Centurion, Peter came to realize that God does not show favouritism.
As a church, and as individuals, are there things that we can learn from the passages of Scripture that we heard today? Both as a group, and individually, we can help break down barriers that can divide people. We just need to remember that one command, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
So, if God accepts without discrimination all who repent and believe, can you think of a reason why we should not? Let us prepare our hearts and minds for our next unexpected encounter.
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - May 12, 2019 Not only is this Sunday referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday, not only is it Mother’s day, but it is also Vocation Sunday, Florence Nightingale’s birthday, International Nurses Day, and Canada Health Day. The one thing that each of these designations have in common is the idea of caring. We know that there are those who care, and those who don’t. As Christians we are called to care. Whether one is Christian or not it is remarkable that millions of people daily get up and provide some kind of service for the maintenance and betterment of friends, family and society in general. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep, the one who cares par excellence, the one who gave his life for his flock. “He calls his own sheep by name… and the sheep know his voice.” John 10: 3,4. The love and care of Mothers are a close second; there is no accounting for the impact and influence that a mother has on her children, for good and ill. Mothers are central to our sense of self and safety in the world. Who has not cried for “Mom” in our most fearful and fragile moments? We long for her comfort and security, no matter how old we are, and are traumatized when mother’s love is absent. On Mother’s Day we sentimentalize the love of mothers, we generalize the ideal of Mother’s love. We know how dependent we are on Mother’s love. We acknowledge our debt to our mothers for their love and attention. The care and suffering of the world sits squarely on the shoulders of those who dare to care. Nurses and firemen are considered the most trusted of professionals; we count on them to handle situations that are beyond our ability, and which most would rather avoid.
/2 We expect nurses to handle and touch things that are unseen. We expect firemen to run into burning buildings, handle disasters, and witness death and destruction as a matter of course. The cynical question today is often, “Who cares?” Even the people who are supposed to care can’t care and don’t care 100% of the time. The fact of the matter is not that people do not care, but that people in our busy culture are overwhelmed with care. With the global village and disasters of the world in our faces every waking moment it is easy to lose track of what we can effectively and charitably care about. There is a risk of “Compassion Fatigue” when the one who cares needs care him/herself. Burnout is a serious hazard at home and in the workplace. Emotional and spiritual demands are a challenge. There are phases and stages of caring. Emotions can range from altruism to detachment and back again over time. There are days of joy and “rewards of the heart,” and days of frustration and exhaustion; suffering, and trying to cope with suffering, is a constant. There is no doubt that caring is expensive in more ways than one. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is famous for saying that, “the cost of discipleship is death.” His claim is that to be a Christian is to partake of the care and the suffering of each other. The Christian church has always been a resource, one of the first places to go for help. The church is criticized for many things, but a warm welcome and free hot meal is not something that desperate folk refuse. How do we learn to care? Is caring an inherent part of us? Can we assume that humans are basically good and respond to the needs of others out of the mercy and generosity of our hearts, or do we learn to care by the example of loving parents, or other caregivers, who meet our needs so well that we are able to share without reserve? /3 To care is to look after and provide for the needs of loved ones, and anyone with whom we are in contact; the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance and protection of someone or something. It often seems that the world is consists of two groups: those who help and those who need help, not one without the other. There are helpers who cannot ask for help, helpers who consider themselves irreplaceable, idealistic helpers who give and give and give until there is nothing left to give. It takes time to learn how to pace our giving. And how important it is to first care for ourselves. There are those who make a life of needing help. Needs are notorious for growing in an unlimited way. Who doesn’t need something? We are easily conditioned to think we have needs that previously didn’t exist. Is the person crying wolf? Are we being manipulated? These are hard considerations for anyone who cares. There is certain sadness and frustration in witnessing other people’s pain; it is a kind of grieving; grieving for lost potential, grieving for our inability to solve every problem. It is a skill to allow the person to do what they can; so often we think that we are the answer, we have the answer, but true care is to help the person care for themselves for as long as possible. And then to enlist more help from more helpers. We must be careful not to take on the role of God, as if the care of all of humanity is our responsibility alone. It is a subtle kind of arrogance that allows us to believe that we are indispensable in our little sphere of influence. In Matthew 11:28-30Jesus reminds us,28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus cares for us. /4 Dorcas, or Tabitha, is an example of the caring individual, a charitable person who made things, especially clothing, for the needy in Joppa. Dorcas was known for her good works and acts of love for the poor Acts 9:36. At first I wondered, What is so significant about Dorcas? What does the story of Dorcas tell us? I now consider that Dorcas is each of us, like Dorcas, doing our best in a quiet and productive daily way. Dorcas is an example of ordinariness which is extraordinary, about work (sewing) that does not seem so life changing, but had a marked impact on the community that revolved around her. The widows crying were missing more than the clothes she made. Dorcas was so dearly missed that Peter was called upon to do something to ease the pain of losing her. Peter was able to do something supra-human, which we cannot do, the reward, the miracle, the resurrection, which is promised for each of us who believe, who daily do our best to live love and to care. This is meaning of vocation, that we are called to do something worthy, something requiring our love, dedication and best effort. We often think that only religious, or those extremely passionate about something, are “called” to a particular vocation. The truth is that we each are called to do our best in whatever situation we find ourselves. We may not be able to physically resurrect a person, but we can, and do, provide material resources, and resurrect hope and love in those who have lost. In Isaiah 40: 31 we are assured that, “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
/5 In John 10: 22-30, Jesus is asked, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” 25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me,26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[b]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.30 I and the Father are one.” Not only are there those who care and those who don’t, those who help, and those who need help (and we all need help at one time or another), but there are those who believe, and those who don’t. We who believe, are the sheep who listen to our Master’s voice, who gain strength from obedience, who find rest in the arms of the Lord. With the Psalmist we can say, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” The NIV puts it this way: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[a]I will fear no evil,for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Let us dare to care. As Jesus teaches us. Thanks be to the Lord, our Shepherd. Amen