Rev. Davids Blog There Is a Balm for Our Souls These words from A New Creed (UCC) resonate in my spirit: In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.
I struggle through these darker and colder days of November. The ‘turning-fourteen year old’ in my home saw the first snowfall this week and was so excited that it “stuck” together - he wanted to make snowballs and play. A balm to my spirit. A family came by the Emmanuel office looking for coats and mittens and we had a conversation of welcome and of need. Boxes of food items at both Bedford Pastoral Charge and Emmanuel are being given to the Centre d’action bénévole de Cowansville / Bedford (CABC/B). Local initiatives that are helping all our families. A balm to my sadness. My fall struggle starts with remembrance that honours my Dad, Ernest, a five-year WWII veteran. I will stand at the Cenotaph in Cowansville and Bedford with my very own memories of when my father began to speak of his experiences of war some 50 years after it ended. Vera Lynn was singing in front of Buckingham Palace and he was singing along with this voice and songs that gave hope in the darkness of warfare. I remember seeing and touching the hidden ‘trophies’ he brought back hidden in his sock drawer that were never shown to anyone until after he died. After this remembrance are the memories of my siblings: sisters Rebecca and Ruth, brother Joe and the last weeks and months of their lives during the fall of the year. Their deaths colour these days with pain, grief, good-byes and after their deaths, the silence and absence. I remember placing three candles in the early morning of the new year when the call came that my youngest brother had died only a few minutes before. The light, a balm in my darkness. I recently created a memory wall in my home library with photos of my siblings and I used my Dad’s KJV Bible at Community School. My remembrance is deep and profound. It pulses with darkness, sadness and memories and always with love! The light seems to shine through the cracks of the myriad of my emotions as my body and spirit recall the angst of letting go. We love deeply and mourn deeply. One of the ways I felt God’s presence recently was at the gathering of worship leaders last Sunday afternoon. It was All Saints and 12, yes, 12 men and women gathered in Emmanuel’s Meeting Room talking about their roles and call as worship leaders for our pastoral charges in the Brome-Missisquoi. These, and those unable to make the meeting are 19 leaders willing to lead in prayer, worship and speak from their hearts to our congregations and the places that they serve. These leaders were a balm to my heart these dark days of November. The prophet Jeremiah (8: 22) asks the question for a people crushed and wounded: Is there no medicine/balm in Gilead? The spiritual (VU 612), born out of deep suffering says: There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. Sometimes I feel discouraged, and think my work’s in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
A balm, O God, in these darks days of November’s remembrance, a balm, O God, to our weariness and saying goodbyes, a balm, O God, on your church and its leadership, a balm to renew and to revive we pray. Amen.
Message - Frances Jones - Nov. 3, 2019 Measuring Up
Have you ever gone to a parade where a large crowd had already gathered? Possibly the Santa Claus parade, or the St. Patrick's Day parade - where you heard that some famous person would be walking or riding along? If you are short in stature, as some of us are, it is very difficult to be able to see over crowds of people. That can be very frustrating when you have come to this event especially to see something or someone in particular.
If not at a parade, possibly you have attended a concert to see, as well as hear, a famous singer that you've heard so much about. The hearing might not have been a problem, considering the sound systems at concerts, but seeing the performer could have posed a bit of a problem for you.
Similarly, at the movie theatre, you have just seated yourself comfortably when someone whose head towers above yours, has dropped down into the chair right in front of you. Now you no longer have a clear view. Frustrating, to say the least! So, decision time! To stay where you are and fume about the fact that you can't see, or to do something about it and search out a location where you can have a better view.
Something similar happened to this little man, Zacchaeus. Because he was short in stature, he couldn't see over or around the crowd of people that had gathered beside the road in Jericho that day. Everyone was there for the same reason – because they had heard about the miraculous things this man called Jesus had done. The news had spread how he had changed people's lives; not only physically, but Spiritually as well. And this great teacher and healer was going to be passing through their town on his way to Jerusalem. Of course, they all wanted to get a good view of him, including Zacchaeus.
We can just imagine this short man standing on tip-toes, peering around the many bodies in front of him, trying to get a good look; but it was fruitless. He just didn't measure up; not only because of his stature, but also because, in the eyes of his fellow citizens, Zacchaeus was a traitor – a man who collected taxes from them on behalf of the enemy, the Roman Empire. They detested this little man because they knew what a liar, and a cheater he was.
But Zacchaeus was determined, so he had to think of a Plan B. Somehow, he would have to rise above this crowd. It was the only way he would be able to see Jesus. Looking around for an idea, he spotted it. A large sycamore tree just up ahead. 'Aha !', he probably thought, 'I'll have a better view than anyone, if I can just climb up to that branch and hang on.' And so he did!
As he hunkered down on the branch of that large tree, Zacchaeus spotted Jesus and his followers off in the distance as they approached the city. Imagine the excitement! Shouts of “Here he comes!” eminated from the crowd; hands and arms reaching out trying to touch him as he walked past. Some might even have been chanting, “Jesus, Jesus!”
But Jesus walked right on by the multitude as they tried to take hold of him or his garment. Then he stopped, looked up and made eye contact with this little man stradling a tree branch. What do you suppose was going through Zacchaeus' mind? “Oh, oh!, This man called Jesus has noticed me. I cannot avoid his eyes as they search me. What will he say; what will he think of me when he finds out who I am and what I have done?”
Before Zacchaeus could ponder on this thought any further, Jesus, with his head still raised and eyes fixed on him, called him by his name. “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today”. And so, without hesitation, the little man let go of the branch he was clinging to, climbed down and joined Jesus.
By this time the crowd was abuzz with grumblings and complaints. Probably thinking that it should have been them to whom Jesus paid attention, they muttered among themselves, 'Why would Jesus associate with this sinner, this outcast? Did you hear that? He even called him by his name? How did he know his name?'
And maybe Zacchaeus was wondering the same thing. Do you suppose he could have had any idea that he would be noticed by Jesus; that he would be singled out and called to join him?
Jesus must have made quite an impact on this tax collector. As a result of meeting him face to face, Zacchaeus experienced a complete transformation. He even promised a quadruple payback to anyone who had been cheated; and pledged half his possessions to the poor. And, we can only imagine the elation felt by this little man when Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today. The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost”.
No longer lost? Had Zacchaeus finally realized what it was like to be loved and accepted? After having made restitution and correcting his ways, was this scorned and rejected individual actually now able to measure up? Only through the saving grace of Jesus.
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I really enjoy reading the gospel of Luke because, as we have seen from stories we've heard throughout the past few Sundays, and then again today, what seems to be impossible to us can happen, and does happen.
Luke portrays Jesus as the Man from God, and emphasizes the humanity of our Lord. Throughout this gospel we meet a Saviour who is suited to everyone – the outcast, the downtrodden, the despised, the poor - and women. Luke turns the tables on individuals and on groups – he seems to enjoy turning the world upside down as he describes our Lord calling individuals who might be considered 'questionable' people – people who, according to some, just don't measure up. Do you think that means that Jesus condones whatever it is we decide to do, whatever choices we make?
I'd like to share with you a bit of a TV show I saw the other night on the program called, “Bull”. It concerned the relationship between a father and his daughter. The teenage daughter had been attending college and got into trouble. As a result, she went to her dad for support because she had made the decision to do something that her father, because of his faith and upbringing, adamantly disapproved of. What she had decided to do was against his principles, his beliefs.
So, searching for answers, the dad entered a church – a place he hadn't been to in many years because of personal reasons. While he was studying the bulletin board in the entrance of the building, an older gentleman appeared from the sidelines and asked if he could help. The father said he needed some counselling – and he just wanted some advice concerning his dilemma. He explained to the older man that he loved his daughter dearly and wanted to always be there for her, but he just couldn't agree with this decision she had made. To that, the older gentleman offered up some advice. He said, 'you know, that's a lot like God is with us. We know he loves us. He certainly doesn't approve of all the things we do, the choices we make, but we do know he's there for us, like a good father.'
These words from the older gentleman seemed to appease the dad, and as he turned to leave, his parting words were, “thank you, Pastor”. The older man opened his mouth in an attempt to explain something, but it was too late. The father had left the building. So the gentleman turned and walked back to where he came from, picked up his mop, placed it in the pail of water, and continued what he had been doing before the encounter.
You and I can think of so many things that can cloud our vision of our Saviour. In the case of Zacchaeus, it was the crowds of onlookers who lined the street that blocked his view. And, don't we hang on to ideas or traditions in a similar way that this little man clung to the limb of the sycamore tree?
If we are feeling that we have made too many bad choices in life; that we're too far gone to ever be able to measure up to our Lord's standards, let's remember Jesus' words to Zacchaeus, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost”. So, maybe we were lost, but here we have the proof that we don't have to stay lost.
As Zacchaeus let go of that branch of the tree, can't we too just let go? Let's ask ourselves if we're willing to go out on a limb to meet Jesus, and, as the janitor in our story shared a wonderful truth, we too can share the good news that we have a God who loves us in spite of ourselves.
Davids Blog - Nov. 2, 2019 Remembrance in the Dark Days of November I heard a voice saying,“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,for they rest from their labours.” Revelation 14:13 The changing of the summer to fall challenges and assaults my physical senses. The days darken, there are more layers of clothing, no more sandals, and add to this the cold rainy days and the putting the garden to bed for the winter!! Take me back to warm summer evenings.In the month of November, we live a season of remembering, of transitions, and of letting go. This fall I have enjoyed exploring the many trails around the region, especially with the incredible, almost breathtaking, colours of the fall foliage. Spectacular vistas. Leaves are at their most vibrant just before they die and fall to the earth to compost into the soil that will nurture future growth.Our faith story remembers that on the night of October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses – a proposal to debate the doctrine and practice of indulgences – to the castle church door in Wittenberg, Germany, beginning what became known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther chose this night knowing that many people would be attending church the next day – All Saints Day – and would read his statements.Around the world Christians remember the saints at All Saints (November 1). In the New Testament “Saints” refer to Christians collectively. Cemeteries have memorials, as do hospitals and residences. We remember our dead.We remember the saints who have gone before us and who surround us. They are what the writer of the Hebrews (12:1) describes as a “great crowd of witnesses round us!”We remember on November 10th at worship and Armistice Day the 11th the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in far off battlefields and served their country.As Christians we know this cycle of endings and new beginnings. We celebrate a hope rooted in Christian faith that affirms that the darkness of death cannot hold back the One we call Light of the World. We affirm that there is an end from labour and a rest in the Lord, that God holds the dead close in grace and we in a holy remembrance in our hearts.The fall colours, so beautiful and so fleeting, mirror the cycle of our lives and the challenge of our grief, which is to remember, to treasure, and also to let go.When we are living, it is in Christ Jesus,and when we’re dying, it is in the Lord.Both in our living and in our dying,we belong to God, we belong to God. (Anonymous, Voices United, 581) We gather to remember the “brilliant colours” of our loved ones at our All Saints Communion service this Sunday. Be ready to name a loved one during the service and around the communion table. Speak their name in your heart or with your voice.We will pray this prayer together:O God before whom the generations rise and pass away;we praise you for all your servants who,having lived this life in faith,now live eternally with you.Especially we thank you for these your servants, now gone from among us.We name them into your love…We praise you for the gift of their lives,for all in them that was kind and good.We thank you that for them death is past and pain ended,and that they have entered the joy you have prepared, in your eternal love. Amen.We remember them.Rev. David
Rev. Davids Blog - Oct 25, 2019 Persisting, like our ancestors, till justice comes.
The story of the unjust judge who refuses to listen to the needs of the desperate widow is a short parable that reverberates in many lives. The unnamed woman perseveres until her cause is met with justice. (Luke 18: 1-8) I remember when I was separated and reduced to one salary. Costs continued, for the house, car and children but there was half the revenue. There were some lean years with tough choices and a struggle to provide the necessities without the children knowing how difficult things were. I was paid once a month and always filled the pantry with food so that the end of the month would be more manageable. I tried to save on things, reuse where possible and not be too extravagant. I realised quickly that spending money from the future with credit, easy enough to have, just created a debt load that became impossible to meet. Desperation is a significant motivator in our lives. The stories of my grandparents, with the challenges of the Great Depression, illness, war, blindness and the early death of a wage earner are ones I remember hearing about around the house. Theirs was a reality of, at times, overwhelming odds that birthed great creativity, desperation and innovation. The barrels of sand in the basement of my grandmother’s house was an example of how to store the fall gourds to access them into the leaner winter months. The tea bags drying on the line to be reused again may have only been a myth but was a symbol of industry and necessity. There are so many situations that involve desperation: financial poverty or fixed incomes unadjusted to real and rising costs, the early death of parents leaving young children in need of caregivers, illness that robs mobility or saps hope, fragile mental health or explosive behaviour in children or youth. When Jesus puts in the center of a story the widow who needs a favorable judgement to recover borrowed monies she needs for her survival, he speaks to a crisis where there is justice or death. Her determination and persistence in knocking at the judge’s door and pleading until he hears her case is that feisty, desperate perseverance that wins the day. And if this crusty unjust judge responded to her needs, Jesus says, how much more will God, who loves us, answer perseverant prayer? The Sunday before All Saints (Halloween in popular culture) is Reformation Sunday, not often celebrated within United Churches. Our reformed roots stem from Europe’s religious turmoil in the 16th century, filled with stories of perseverance and overcoming faith: Martin Luther and Katarina Von Bora, Jean Calvin, John Knox, Wycliffe and so many others. In the chaos of their times men and women affirmed faith in Jesus Christ and a return to the simplicity of gospel living rather than the heavy traditions imposed by religion. Let us celebrate these and others whose faith marked the generations and the world, who persevered through great odds with faith, hope and prayer. Let us celebrate the widows and widowers who confront with deep courage daily challenges and needs. Let us live a vibrant faith that perseveres until justice comes for us and our neighbours. Faith of our fathers/mothers living still in spite of dungeon, fire and sword; O how our hearts beat high with joy, whene’er we hear that glorious word: faith of our fathers/mothers, holy faith, we will be true to you till death.
(Frederick Faber, 1849, VU 580). Rev. David
On the night of October 31, 1517, Martin Luther, the German Reformer, nailed the 95 theses, a proposal to debate the doctrine and practice of indulgences—to the castle church door, beginning what became known as the Protestant Reformation. He knew that people would be attending church the next day—All Saints Day—and would thus read his statement of concern about the church.
Message - Oct 20, 2019 - Frances Jones Keep on Keepin' On Remember when you were a kid, and you figured if you kept nagging and begging your parents for something in particular, they would get sick of you pestering them, and would finally give in to your request? And, we remember our own children asking over and over again for something, sometimes comparing themselves to everyone else, emphasizing the fact that they are the only ones who don't have this particular item – a Cabbage Patch doll, and more recently, a game for the computer, an i-Pod or the latest version of the i-Phone. Sometimes persistance works, and sometimes it doesn't. When we didn't receive what we wanted, or our children didn't receive what they were asking for, was it because our parents didn't care; or that we, as parents didn't care about those wishes. I don't think so! Maybe the timing just wasn't right.
Today we read the story of the persistant widow who kept asking for the same thing over and over again. We don't know if she made her requests daily, weekly, monthly, or even if it took years to finally get the answer she was looking for. But, to her, it was worth the time and the effort. Her request, however, was anything but trivial. She was not pleading for wealth or special favours; but for something that was rightfully hers - justice against her adversary.
From reading this parable, we don't know who her adversary was, nor do we know what injustice she was experiencing. She may have been mistreated, abused, or maybe she was being cheated out of something that rightfully belonged to her. Whatever it was, I think we can conclude that it was serious enough to warrant correction. That's why she returned time after time to the individual who held the power to make it happen for her – this unjust judge. If each request to be heard in front of this judge cost her financially, she must have been suffering a serious injustice, one worth the investment of both her time and her money.
But this powerful, self-absorbed, authoritative and pompous judge couldn't have cared less about this widow's problem. As a matter of fact, he didn't care anything about God or what anyone thought about him. He was quite content in his own little self-centred world.
As time passed, this unjust judge became totally worn out from the persistance of this over-bearing little woman as she kept hammering on his door, demanding to be heard. So, he finally gave in to her request just to be rid of her nagging. In his mind, she was merely an insignificant widow who was looking for attention. So, give her what she wants and make her go away. And, can't you just imagine the sarcastic tone in the judge's voice when he told his subjects that he would grant the widow her request only to prevent her from eventually coming and attacking him! Ha! Ha!
Some of us might have given up after trying so many times to receive a positive answer. But discouragement and failure were not words in this woman's vocabulary. Even when it seemed that no one was listening to her problems, she persevered, and as a result of this persistance, received the justice she deserved.
Ah, the stories of Jesus! Someone once said to me, 'the Bible is full of stories, from cover to cover'. Yes, wonderful stories! And Jesus was such a terrific story-teller.! But, was that all there was to it? Just stories? I believe you and I have realized just how meaningful these earthly stories with heavenly meanings were, and still are. So, how can we, in the world as it is today, relate to this particular parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge?
Can anyone here relate to scams? How many times does the phone ring and the individual on the other end would like to find out some specific, personal information from you? Whether it's on T.V., from the computer, the phone, or through personal interaction, there's always someone who wants what you've got. Adversaries are alive and well.
We know that as Christians living in a material world, it's not always easy to try to follow Christ's example in all of our thinking, speaking and living. Just as Jesus had to face his adversary in the desert, aren't we also tempted in similar manner still today - to choose the easier path; to put God to the test; to take a shortcut; or even to turn around or to give up completely? Through today's story about the widow, as well as by the example of Jesus' experiences against his adversary in the wilderness, his message seems to be the same: “Always pray and not give up”. But we can come up with all kinds of excuses why we are not as persistent as we ought to be - we're busy; much of our time is spoken for; it's difficult to stay awake.
Fortunately for us, our Judge to whom we pray, is very different from the unjust judge in this story that we heard today. God does not respond to our prayers only to get rid of us; to merely shut us up; or because he's tired of being tormented. Instead, he is like the loving parent who wants only the best for his children – one who has provided us with rights – the right to belong; to be a member of his family; the right to life!
It's a challenge to stick up for what we believe. So many choices! God's rules are too restrictive. Some of Jesus' parables are difficult for us to hear, and we might be tempted to soften the message a little to better suit our lifestyle, or to fit what it is we want to hear, rather than what we might need to hear.
Apparently, Paul knew that the temptation to soften the message to suit listeners was happening even in his day. In his letter to Timothy that we read this morning, Paul warned the young fellow against such a practice in order to please people. Paul urged Timothy to instead spread only the truth, to be persistent and to keep on keeping on.
When we have approached our Judge through prayer over and over again, requesting the same thing, and have not received results, we may not appreciate having to wait. However, from experience I can say that, when God chooses to respond, it is in his own time, but we can be assured that his answer comes to us out of mercy, love and grace.
So, as we talk with God – and not give up - using whatever language we normally speak, and whatever words flow from our hearts, let us continue as the widow did - with persistance, as we keep on keepin' on.
Rev. Davids Blog - Oct 13, 2019 Stop the Bus!In the midst of a very eventful week, Friday morning found me missing the school bus by a few seconds at the corners of Québec and South streets and attempting to follow it to find another stop to get on. It did not work and I drove my ‘young charge’ to high school in Farnham arriving at the same time as all the yellow buses. On time. In the car we listened to Isabelle Boulet, who will sing at a Sur la scène Davignon concert at Massey-Vanier in a few weeks, to decide if I would buy tickets and attend.When I said yes to becoming an emergency foster home I should have specified that the child not arrive the day before a week long visit with Mom, sister Pauline and brother-in-law Jake. And when my last foster son and his brother asked to visit Sunday into Monday I gave up control and invited everyone to the turkey meal at Emmanuel on Sunday with some 86 people attending. The turkey in a bag cooked at my house Sunday morning seemed to have been a success as no one complained about the dry turkey. There was great joy, great food and a sense of belonging. My new arrival was the DJ, his first ‘official’ gig.The welcome of my home to family, both those biological and others, all linked by love, is the same offered Sunday morning at Wesley United (Bedford) for baptism (Darlene Gloria Bockus) and Emmanuel’s presentation of a child recently baptised at home (Elliot Antoine [Wheeler] Parisien):Inclusive welcome.Generous love.Radical hospitality.These themes resonate over and over again. They awaken hearts and spirits to the possibility that unconditional love can be a glue to weaving disparate individuals together into a community of joy, celebration and thanksgiving.At community school this week Abraham was the subject of study. A bad boy or good? Like our lives, his was complex with many decisions in the bad category:·lying about Sarah not being his wife (Genesis 12: 10-20, 20: 1-7)·sending Hagar and Ishmael into the desert ‘to die’ (Genesis 16, 21: 8-21)·willing to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22: 1-19)Yet the overriding theme is his willingness to believe God and trust love’s promises of a better place and a home for generations to come. He dared to leave everything behind to seek a better life and trusted God on the journey. (Genesis 12:1-4). With his mix of faith and humanity he resembles us, trying to discern God’s way and believe in an as of yet unfulfilled promise of new birth and possibilities.As I followed the yellow school bus on winding roads, I accepted that it was a bonding experience in the classroom of building relationships. It was making sure that the welcome to a child was in both word and deed, that promises made are fulfilled with a trust that God is present in the many twists and turns of life.Bless now, O God, the journey that all your people make,the path through noise and silence, the way of give and take.The trail is found in desert and winds the mountain round,then leads beside still waters, the road where faith is found!(Sylvia Dunstan, 1989, VU 633)God: bless the journey! Amen.Rev. David
Rev. Davids Blog Sept. 27, 2019 Meals on Wheels!
You would think that this title is about the program that delivers meals to people in their homes, a wonderful community service. However, as wheels were put under the pulpit at Emmanuel this week to make it more mobile and easier to move it took on new meaning. The image struck me, that the reading and preaching of the Word of God is about movement, change, mobility, conversion, the transformation of our hearts and even the world around us. The same could be true of the sacrament of communion. The psalmist says ‘your word is a lamp to guide me and a light for my path.’ (119: 105). This Word, heard within the community of faith roots, challenges and equips us to be courageous in our witness to faith as light in the world around us. Even as we read it in our personal devotions, it is helping us discern the path we are to take every day. A communion hymn written by Fred Kaan says: Jesus calls us in, sends us out, bearing fruit in a world of doubt, gives us love to tell, bread to share: God (Immanuel) everywhere! Jesus lives again, earth can breathe again, pass the Word around: loaves abound! (Voices United, 468) Meals on wheels should define how we as Christians live out our faith: in the world, in the midst of needs, injustice, loneliness and pain. We are called to be the presence of Christ, his light, hope, healing and grace to all we come into contact with. In the last few weeks there have been many opportunities to be present for our neighbours: the 100th anniversary of the Bedford Township, the Promenade des Arts, Townshippers’ Festival, and the 200th anniversary of the Philipsburg church with its role in the Underground Railroad. These occasions to speak, welcome, and celebrate remind us that our presence within community is the sharing of the joy of the feast of mercy and compassion, of Jesus’ love, with our neighbours. The Word of God that touches us in worship sends us out to bear fruit. As the Community School began yesterday at Heroes’ school and I offered my course on the Bad Boys and Girls of the Bible I thought how wonderful to be reading and listening to the stories of our ancestors in a local elementary school. And to be part of this learning community, meeting new people, open to learn with inquisitive minds and where all questions are appropriate. The wheels on the pulpit are a reminder of the commission that Jesus gave the early church: ‘Go then to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples!’ Or in the words of the chorus:
Go make a diff’rence, we can make a diff’rence. Go make a diff’rence in the world! (More Voices, 209)
We are, in our words and actions, meals on wheels for our neighbours and community, sharing the Bread, the Word, the Feast! Rev. David