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
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - May 5, 2019 This is the liturgical season called Eastertide, the fifty days of celebration until Pentecost. The resurrection has happened, Jesus is risen and made appearances to various disciples. Believers are supposed to be filled with joy, not just for a day, but for the rest of our lives. If the example of Christ is so life changing, why are so many so indifferent? Do we have to be desperate or needy to appreciate the freedom that Christ offers? Do we simply have to be taught from our early years? Or, are we like Saul, so committed to our own way of thinking and acting that we refuse to consider anything else, and then hopefully, and usually totally unexpectedly, receive a whack on the side of the head, or a lightning bolt from heaven, or a sudden flash of insight that changes us forever? For some, insight or enlightenment comes quickly. For others it is a slow progression, a lifetime of hard-won lessons and reflection. Teachers are famous for looking for “teachable moments,” when the student is ready and willing to receive the message that the teacher intends. Why are some so ready, while others must be led, kicking and screaming, to a better way of thinking and acting? The conversion of Saul is the perfect template for the sudden and total transformation of one’s personality. In nine short verses, Saul goes from breathing murderous threats to blinded by the light. I consider Saul to be incredibly favoured to hear so clearly the question, “Why do you persecute me?” Jesus takes total control. Saul is helpless in his blindness, and must be led into his new way of life. Many resist the message of love and life, or are hard of hearing, selectively deaf to a life-giving message, or stubbornly adhering to a philosophy of “my way or the highway.” This corresponds to the /2 popular definition of insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” For those who are able to change quickly, there is often surprise and distrust from others. We ask the questions, “Will it last? If they can do it why can’t I? and then, Who do they think they are? ” We are more familiar with the slow and continuous ups and downs of trying to change our ways, develop new habits, improve our lives, give up addictive patterns. Breaking a habit supposedly takes 21 days just to interrupt the negative action, and another 6 months to embed the new behavior in a permanent way. If a habit or way of life takes years to develop, will it also require years of conscious effort to change? Hatred is easy, persecution of ourselves and others too easily learned; active engagement in a loving life is great in theory but uncomfortably demanding, insisting that we have clarity and commitment to something better. We are always performing, intentionally or not, what is called Cost/Benefit Analysis. What will it cost me to change? What are the positives, what are the negatives, and am I willing to make the required effort? Too often we wait until there is no choice; eg. the doctor tells us, “one more drink, or drug, or whatever secret sin we that we cling to, is going to get you.” Then the stakes become too high, and our physical and emotional life is so threatened that we are forced to change our ways, begin a spiritual journey, find God in earnest! Find someone to save us. I can say from experience that I have bargained with God, deceiving myself with the idea that, “I am not so bad, this behavior is not hurting anyone,” until it is; until it hurts us and our loved ones, and interferes with our own physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth and development. We live with the consequences, and if we are smart we are thankful to have learned our lesson. /3 In the Montreal Gazette of last week-end there was a story about an alleged leader of the Rock Machine, a rival of the Hell’s Angels, arrested and charged with possession of a firearm and selling drugs out of his apartment, (addicted to heroin x 6 yrs.), who is actively seeking Rehab as his way out of the biker lifestyle. He is quoted as saying, “I am tired of all this. I want to get out- of the drugs, and the bikers-and the only way I can see is through drug rehab. I have done this biker thing for too long. I’m 52 and it isn’t working.” He is before a judge who will soon decide his fate. We also have a judge, who though merciful, demands an answer to the question, “Why do you persecute me?” Why do you choose death instead of life? Why do you hurt yourselves and others? Why out of all the hoodlums are there so few who welcome change? This reminds me of the ten lepers who were healed, Luke 17: 15-17 : 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Humans are expert at making excuses, evading responsibility for our actions. We may complain of too few resources, someone did us wrong, life is unfair. But the story of the ten lepers is an example of the fact that we do have resources, we do have guidance, we do have the great example of Jesus. Yet so few admit the need for help, or appreciate the life that is given. The lepers were in the very presence of Jesus, and were miraculously cured, yet only one returned. “Where are the other nine?” Are we with the one or with the nine? This is the challenge of the Great Commission, that so /4 many do not even know the resources available, that we who have share so little of ultimate value; that the forces of power-hungry ego and thankless destruction always seem to have the upper hand. We know very well that an eye for an eye makes everyone blind, yet the drive to revenge is deep in some personalities, and actively encouraged in others. The recent destruction and loss of life in Sri Lanka is but one of an ongoing list of horrific “crimes against humanity” that occur with regrettable frequency. Christians are as actively persecuted now as in the days of Saul. To read the story of Saul on his way to Damascus, and then to listen to the daily news, is to experience a time warp, to understand that the events are thousands of years apart, and yet so identical in motive and deadly consequence. Saul’s life was overtaken by Christ. Although Peter is the rock upon which the Christian church is founded, the new man called Paul is the one who spread the Word to the world. Paul became as fervent and zealous in preaching love and forgiveness for all, as previously he was committed to the destruction of those who love the Lord. The Gospels describe the life of Jesus, the book of Acts describe the life of the early Christians and the early Christian church. The questions are surprisingly the same and as relevant today as they ever were. Do we choose life or death? Do we choose the love and forgiveness of Christ, or hard-hearted revenge and hatred of those devoted to destruction? As individuals let us rejoice with the Psalmist, who says, “You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…” And with the thousands upon thousands mentioned in Revelations 5, we can joyfully worship with those who, “encircle(ed) the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a /5 loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
There they sat – huddled together – shaking in fear. They had only one another to trust; to rely on for support and comfort. Probably filled with guilt, these disciples were very aware of what they had done – or not done.
They had witnessed their teacher, their friend, their Lord being placed in a mock trial, falsely accused, beaten and humiliated, and finally crucified on a wooden cross between two common criminals.
With the religious officials on a rampage, and Roman soldiers following orders to seek out any and all followers of Jesus, these disciples had reason to fear for their lives. They would be tormented and harrassed and finally put to death just for having been Jesus' follower. They were doing the same thing we might have done; hid away behind locked doors to save their own skins. But apparently, it would take more than locked doors to keep them from discovering the truth. There in that darkened room where they huddled together, possibly discussing the terrible things that had happened over the past hours that stretched into days, stood before them Jesus himself, voicing the phrase, “Peace be with you.” We notice that Jesus repeated that same phrase a second time, “Peace be with you!”. Could Jesus see, feel and completely understand their fear; their anxiety; their insecurities?
It seemed that Jesus wasn't finished with these fellows he had chosen to follow him just a few years earlier. Locked doors could not shut him out. He had a message for them, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. Their job now was to carry on the mission that Jesus had started. To continue delivering messages of love and acceptance; to care for one another, and for others, with gentle care and compassion; to live the love that Jesus had lived.
So, breathing on them, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” What a responsibility! What power!
I wonder how long it was before they were on their feet and out that door. Thomas was missing. They had to find him and tell him this amazing news. As soon as they met up with their fellow disicple, they began shouting hysterically at Thomas, “We have seen the Lord!” .
Imagine the response from this disciple who had not seen or heard any of this amazing revelation. And here, racing toward him were these crazed men shouting this fantastic story about their Lord having risen from the dead, and his having appeared to them in a room where the door had been locked?! These friends of his were in a frenzied state, possibly all blurting out the news at once. Thomas knew in his mind that they were not thinking logically. How could this possibly be true? And then, when Thomas could finally get a word in edge-wise, he might have said something like, Really, fellows! We all know he died there on that cross; some of us witnessed the horrific death. We are also aware that Jesus was buried in the tomb, and that a huge boulder had been placed over the entrance. And now, you're telling me that this same Jesus is alive, and that he actually appeared to you; that you actually saw him with your own eyes?
But Thomas didn't completely refuse to believe their story. His belief was conditional. His reply to them was, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side, I will not believe”.
Because of his scepticism, poor Thomas is usually the object of criticism. This statement that he made has labeled him 'Doubting Thomas'. But was he the only one who questioned; who insisted on seeing for themselves this miraculous event?
It was only when Mary had heard Jesus call her by her name, that she realized the truth. And after she ran and informed the others, did they take her word for it? They too had to see for themselves as some of them immediately ran to the tomb, only to find it empty.
Jesus knew Thomas, just like he knew all of the disciples, with their strengths and their weaknesses.. He was well aware of their confused states of mind, and that their spirits were lacking enthusiasm, to say the least.
So, when Jesus appeared in that locked room a second time, do you think it was for Thomas' benefit? Did his ability to believe mean that much to Jesus? There he stood, right in front of Thomas as he spoke directly to him, inviting him to reach out and to touch his wounds. We don't know if he actually did, but we do know how Thomas reacted.
What a revelation! I can picture Thomas falling on his knees before his Lord, in awe, and speechless, except for his exclamation, “My Lord and my God!”.
Thomas, the individual who had been unable to believe what he considered to be impossible; the follower of Jesus who was able only to think logically, was now on bended knee. The truth had been revealed right before his eyes as Jesus stood there proving that death had been replaced with life.
Does logical thinking sometimes hinder our ability to believe? If it can't be explained, then how can it be true? But Jesus proves to us just how important each one of his followers is. That's why I find this story of Thomas encouraging. He wasn't considered a failure because he asked questions. Instead, he was given proof.
And when Jesus appeared in front of these frightened men and women who had huddled together behind locked doors, he didn't call them failures, cowards, or in-grates. He didn't say to them, 'where were you when I needed you most?'. Instead, he simply gave them what they lacked, and needed most – peace.
These men and women hadn't meant to desert their master. They were scared to death. And human instinct caused them to try to save their own lives.
It wasn't the barred door that needed unlocking. It seemed to be their troubled hearts and minds that were locked and barred – in fear and wonder. And that was the queue for Jesus to make an appearance. His presence resulted in their total transformations. He brought the peace they so desperately needed. He offered them a gift – the Holy Spirit. And finally, he gave them a task – to serve.
He met these poor trembling souls right where they were. And he will meet us right where we are. We too may be filled with guilt, doubt, wonderings, or simply non-commitment. We too can be unlocked and freed from what is causing us to hide away. Once our Lord makes himself known to us, as he did to his disciples, including Thomas, will we also exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”?
Message - Frances Jones - Apr. 21, 2019 Just One Word
If we were to replace words with punctuation marks, how would we express Easter? Which punctuation mark would we choose to best describe what Easter means to us? Coma (,) - representing a pause in our busy lives. Not a complete stop, but a break where we take a little time to think about all this. Period (.) - maybe we feel that's the end of the story – period. Jesus was born, lived an exemplary life, then died. Period. Question mark (?) - that demonstrates all the wonderings, and possibly doubts, that we might have. We ask questions concerning resurrection. Is it possible? Exclamation mark (!) - which could represent an interjection like. 'what, are you crazy?' or maybe it better represents our faith. We believe, therefore we say, 'Hallelujah! Christ has risen! Amen!'
We heard this morning about a little girl who shouted just one word - “Surprise!” - as she described what Easter meant to her.
There was also just one word that caused a revelation for Mary Magdalene. On that resurrection morning - weeping, doubting, and totally discouraged - Mary's heavy heart was broken. Her master was not where she expected him to be. Outside the tomb where he had been placed, the huge boulder had been rolled away and Jesus was nowhere to be found inside this dark burial place. Where could he be? Horrifying thoughts began racing through her head. Had someone taken him away? If so, where had they taken him? Mary had no idea where to start looking for him. And so, she wept bitterly.
And then, her aching heart must have leaped in her chest as she heard that one word: “Mary!”. Standing there was the man that she had mistaken for a gardener. Jesus, the one who had offered her forgiveness, who had accepted her, and who had loved her as no one else had ever loved her before, was alive and standing right before her. I can imagine Mary throwing her arms in the air, wanting to give Jesus a big hug. Instead, she dried her tears and followed Jesus' instructions to go and tell the others.
In Chapter 16 of Mark's gospel, we can also read the resurrection story. Here we can find an interesting phrase that was not included in the gospel of John. I believe it is worthy of our attention. Mark's gospel tell us that when the women went to the tomb early in the morning, they found it empty, except for a young man sitting in a white robe. He knew they were looking for Jesus, the Nazarene, so he informed them that he was not there. He had risen! What?
The messenger's instructions to the women were to go and tell the disciples – and Peter – that Jesus was going before them to Galilee. It's that one phrase, 'and Peter' that I believe holds special meaning. Don't you find it interesting that Peter's name was mentioned specifically rather than just being referred to as one of the group? Why do you suppose that was?
Peter, the one who often acted as spokeman for the group of twelve; the one who blurted out that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the Son of God. Peter, who promised his devotion to Jesus up to and including dying for him. Peter, the one who, when the chips were down and Jesus was being dragged away and killed; who, out of fear for his own life, denied even knowing his Lord, not once, but three times. This same Peter was now being mentioned specifically by this messenger from God. Be sure to let Peter know that he is not left out. Yes, he had failed his Lord, but was now being given a second chance.
That delivers a special Easter message to me. Despite our shortcomings - having made bad choices; for the times when we purposefully did not defend our Lord - we can receive forgiveness. We are included, and welcomed, as a member of the family of God.
Haven't we ever felt like Peter might have been feeling after Jesus' death? We know that we haven't done all that we could have done. We feel that we've abandoned the chance to come to our Lord's defense. We have left words that should have been said, unsaid. And, when a situation called for action or commitment, we remained placid and non-committal.
This fisherman from Galilee had been given a second chance. He went from feeling as low as the bottom feeders in the lake to probably remembering the nets that were filled to the breaking point. 'And Peter' – that one little phrase, brought Peter back into the fold. This changed his outlook – his life. From that day on, he spread the good news of Christ's love to all who would listen.
Mary, who had experienced a life of squaler – presumably used by others for their own pleasure - had been forgiven and welcomed by Jesus, after which she became his loyal follower. Now, feeling depressed and lost, she heard just one word: “Mary!”. When Jesus called her by her name, she knew. And we can only imagine the excitement, mixed with relief, that she felt at that moment.
If we were to choose just one word to express Easter, what would it be? Impossible? Skeptical? Supernatural? Amazing? Surprise! Hallelujah! Or maybe that one word will be when you hear Jesus call you by your name. Maybe when a messenger from God assures you that it's not too late. You are invited, and welcomed, as a member of God's family.
Whether we have been forgiven for things that we have felt were unforgiveable, or whether we have allowed fear to replace our devotion to God, we know that we can be given a second chance. In this dog-eat-dog world, second chances are rare. But with our Lord, we can find a second chance every day.
Just one word, “Mary!”. Just one phrase, “and Peter”. Now, we conclude today's message with just one word: THANKS !
Jesus Christ is risen! Hallelujah! Blessed Easter!
Frances Jones – April 21, 2019
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - Apr. 14, 2019 Palm Sunday celebrates what is called The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Of course, this depends on your point of view. For the believers, the sight of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey caused great excitement. Others had to ask who it was causing the excited response. Some believed that Jesus was the anticipated savior/liberator, others were disappointed that Jesus didn’t arrive on a horse, symbol of war, ready to take away the burden of Roman oppression. Instead he arrived on a donkey, so much more lowly, a symbol of peace. This was no accident. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing, and where he was headed.
The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem marks the beginning of Holy Week, going by the name of Palm Sunday, and also Passion Sunday, leading up to the remarkable event that defines the Christian faith. It is a remarkable event, and it does require faith to believe in the reality of the events and the Godly inspired intention of Jesus to sacrifice himself on our behalf. We too wave palms; what about passion and Passion?
The short life of Jesus was such that, as he rode the donkey on the way to Jerusalem, people spontaneously honoured him by waving palm branches and laying their cloaks on the path he travelled, saying, “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matt. 21: 9) Interesting that Hosanna means “Save us.” Jesus was a well-known figure; his reputation as a miracle worker, healer, and independent authority preceded him. Entering Jerusalem on a donkey is for some, the beginning of the end, or for the believers, the beginning of hope, a revolution of thought and action personified by Jesus, the Savior. Of course, this was the time of Passover; Jesus and his followers were Jews who were about to perform the usual Passover ritual meal (Seder). As described in Mt 26:17-19, Jesus spoke of /2 celebrating the Passover feast with His apostles: “On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came up to Jesus and said, ‘Where do you wish us to prepare the Passover supper for you?’ He said, ‘Go to this man in the city and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time draws near. I am to celebrate the Passover with My disciples in your house.’” Another quote sums up: The festival of the Passover has been celebrated by Jews for thousands of years. It is the retelling of the great story of how God redeemed the Jewish nation from enslavement in Egypt. (Exodus 12) 1 The celebration itself was given to the Jews while they were still in Egypt.2The original celebration centered around the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed and its blood put over the doorposts as a sign of faith, so that the Lord passed over the houses of the Jews during the last plague poured out on the Egyptians - the killing of every firstborn. http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/passover.html Jesus had every intention of transcending this ritual, transforming it into something that it had never represented before. This is the Passion of Jesus, an act of love that fulfills the Law and heralds a new age and way of being. With Jesus, the Seder meal of Passover becomes the Holy Communion of Christianity. Jesus is the Communion. Jesus knew that he was the sacrificial lamb. Liberation of all souls the objective; Liberation from the original and ongoing sin of separation from God, and the overwhelming consequence of death. The Cross is where politics, passion, power and peace intersect. The Roman authorities considered Jesus a threat to the social order. The Jewish leaders considered Jesus to be heretical, presuming to fulfill the promise of a Messiah foretold from historic times. Jesus represents spiritual power confronting and surpassing political and /3 physical power. With Jesus, the reality of peace endures even in the midst of turmoil. Passion is described as “strong and often uncontrollable emotion.” The suffering of Christ is another definition of passion. Holy Week is a story of pain and suffering, such as the experience of Jesus on the Mt. of Olives, “being in anguish he prayed more earnestly and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Strong and uncontrollable emotion can be a dangerous thing. But if Passion is also a commitment to a goal, no matter what the cost, then Jesus was passionate indeed. A quote from an article describing “ten steps to increase spiritual passion,” gives other examples: Passion often separates success and failure. French Military Strategist Ferdinand Foch said, “The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire.” Helen Keller once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it’s nothing.” German Philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel said, “Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.” Fire on the inside affects everything on the outside. William Ward wrote: “Enthusiasm and persistence can make an average person superior; indifference and lethargy can make a superior person average.” Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Knowledge is valuable, but passion is invaluable. Albert Einstein said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” In our spiritual journey, passion can help provide the incentive to continue all the way to heaven. God wants Christians to be fervent in spirit (Romans 12:11) and zealous of good works (Titus 2:14), no matter how cold our spiritual environment (Matthew 22:35–40). Fervent (zeo) means “to boil with heat.” Jesus was “eaten up” with passion for God (John 2:17). (https://housetohouse.com/ten-steps-increase-spiritual-passion/) /4 Despite all of these positive examples of passion, strong emotion can be a fearful thing. Feelings can be overwhelming, hard to understand and control. Being too obvious with our passions can make us vulnerable to the criticisms of others. We become known, and face rejection. We fear standing out from our peers and moving from our comfort zones. We might fail, we might look foolish, we might fail to accomplish our dreams; our hopes may be dashed on the rocks of harsh reality. Over time we learn that strong emotion needs to be controlled. Ideally, we grow from throwing temper tantrums at will, to the appropriate channeling of our physical and psychic passions into constructive actions and relationships. The expression of emotion and passion has a cultural component. We are “cool as cucumbers” or “hot as chili peppers.” We are reserved where others are demonstrative. We follow our passions or we lead by rational consideration. It is wisdom that teaches us to use both head and heart rather than either head or heart. Following our passions may lead to decisions that we later regret. Not following our passions may lead to regrets that we settled for less than our true potential. For Jesus passion cost him everything. It also accomplished everything. Christians are defined by such verses as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” and Romans 10:9 “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
/5 For me, Palm Sunday and the Passion of Christ asks questions that I am not always ready to answer. Did Jesus have to die? Do I need to be saved? Do I believe that Christ is my Savior? Do I know what my own passions are? Do I know how to cope with my own strong emotions? Am I passionate for Christ? Ordinary humans give their lives for others, both in the ultimate sense, and day by day as “bread” for others. It is love that gives us the endurance to care. I believe that Jesus is the best idea that mankind has. I believe that confronting evil situations or standing for what is right can be costly, but imperative. It is the gift of Jesus that allows me to live in freedom and hope and peace. I believe that Jesus is the bridge that allows me to overcome the alienation and separation of my human condition from the ideal of the Godhead. The father of the epileptic child described in Mark 9: 24, speaks for me, (many), “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” And then I remember,“Greater love hath no one than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Thank you, Thank God Amen
Message - Karen Lackey Ryan - Mar. 24, 2019 Reflection 3rd Sunday in Lent NIV The Christian calendar moves quickly from the birth of Jesus to the Cross. During Lent, in our northern climate, where Mother Nature gives the impression of death, we walk with Jesus from the depths of winter to the hope of spring. We not only yearn for the end of winter, and yearn for the sight of flowers poking up through the snow, but we yearn for the end of suffering, the end of natural and spiritual darkness. Jesus is our hope, born of The event to come in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the words of Jesus, in the reading from Luke this morning, we hear the echo of John the Baptist calling sinners to repent. v.1, “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” A rather grizzly image. And then, 18 are killed when a tower falls on them. “Those present” were understandably worried and fearful. As we would be too. Or, as we are also worried and fearful. Does our belief guarantee that we will not experience tragedy? Were those affected big sinners and that is why they were targeted? We ask the same questions. Jesus seems to be advising us to avoid counting and comparing who has sinned the most, who has suffered the greatest tragedy. In other words, in this case there is no correlation between the tragedy and the amount of sin. The important criteria, which Jesus repeats and emphasizes, is the need to repent. Then we encounter that unfortunate fig tree again. After naming the worries of the people, the following story of the fig tree serves as an illustration. The unproductive fig tree is symbolic of stagnation and no growth. The demand is, “produce or die!” But the “gardener” gives the tree another chance, a reprieve, a bit more time to show results. /2 Like the fig tree, we all surely have fallow times in our lives where not much growth is happening, where it is winter in our soul, where we can only wait, trusting that the “soil” will support us while our hearts recuperate. We may ask ourselves, “when will this ever end, why is this happening to me?” Then spring finally arrives, often at the farthest edge of our hope, and we regain our ability to function. Lent is a kind of spiritual spring cleaning, a time to respond to the invitation given in our reading from Isaiah, a time to get our priorities straight. Isaiah 50: 1, “Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters,” and, v. 6,Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” The word thirst can indicate a drive to obtain something, or a state of parched dryness, a need of nourishing water. In this sense, Lent asks us a question, What do we really want? Is our thirst strong enough to send us seeking the only water that truly satisfies? Can we endure the arid times and conditions of our lives, knowing that growth can still occur in the depths of our soul? Are we committed to seeking the Lord while he may be found? Our Lenten reading mentions that our souls are “often cluttered.” It is an indication of our affluence that we can be overwhelmed by stuff. There are so many beautiful and useful objects out there, that are hard to resist. I am famous for saying that I don’t need anything, and then am easily seduced by some object, large or small, that I cannot live without! There is an outpouring of books and articles with answers to decluttering our environments. Who but Christians, or other religious, would think to look to the Bible or come to church for help with sorting out our lives!?
/3 Throughout the entire Bible God is perpetually asking us the question, Do you acknowledge me and believe in me or not? Inherent in the season of Lent, and the adoption of Lenten practices, is the acknowledgement of God and our need for God centred lives. Adherents are willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers, and that we are willing to continuously wrestle with ourselves and the Holy scriptures. This requires humility and willingness to admit that we need a guiding presence in our lives. As Matthew 7: 13,14 states, For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. The reading from 1 Corinthians 10 is like a scolding, a reprimand, and a warning. “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” The choice is clear and has been around for a long time. The consequences of our choice to acknowledge God or not are the same as ever, and persist, however strong the denials and arguments. In the verses that follow, (v. 6-10) we are provided with a list of the usual sorts of behavior that get us into trouble: evil desires, gluttony, sexual immorality, and grumbling! For those of us who have somewhat tamed our unruly desires there are usually other, more subtle sins that litter our road to perfection.
/4 The ending of our passage from Corinthians is supposed to be reassuring. v. 13,“And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. When you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can bear it.” Have you ever cried, Lord, Where is that way out? I can certainly attest that the urge to succumb to a temptation is usually so strong that the inner voice of God and good conscience providing the way out is barely audible. How many times do we have to learn by experience, rather than follow the straight and narrow path! Hence the saying, “Toosoon old, too late wise.” Lent is traditionally a time of repentance, fasting and prayer. A time to put ourselves right with God, ourselves and others. We may laugh at ourselves, giving up chocolate, or meat on Fridays, our little sacrifices. If we are guilty of anything, it is that we want what we want, when we want it. And we so often want MORE. More of what doesn’t satisfy the deep need of our heart. The point of fasting is not only to reflect, but to accept “More of thee and less of me.” God wants us to make room for him and his way of love and forgiveness. It is a long wait for winter to end. Spring is a time when many are “fed up” and impatient with the cold and snow. The sober season of Lent, leading up to the paradoxical end and resurrection of Jesus, and the beginning of faith in the risen Christ, is both counter-cultural and life transforming. It is knowing that there are warmer days, there is light at the end of the tunnel, there is hope and jubilation to come. We are given a promise, that love overcomes evil, that light overcomes the darkness, that as we repent so are we forgiven; That our hope is not in vain, that the life of Christ overcomes the force and finality of death. /5 I would like to conclude with some Lenten thoughts of Pope Francis, who asks this question, “Do you want to fast this Lent?” And then answers with the following: Fast from hurting words, and say kind words. Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude. Fast from anger and be filled with patience. Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope. Fast from worries and trust in God. Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity. Fast from pressures and be prayerful. Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy. Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others. Fast from grudges and be reconciled. Fast from words and be silent so you can listen. As Psalm 63 reminds us: 1 You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. 4 I will praise you as long as I live and in your name I will lift up my hands. 5 I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Thanks be to God. Amen
message - Frances Jones - Mar 10, 2019Armed and Dangerous Luke 4: 1-13
Do you ever get caught off guard in a confrontation with another person? Sometimes we are taken by surprise when we experience an unpleasant or a challenging encounter, and we look for the right words – the proper defense.
In our Scripture reading from Luke's gospel we heard once again about Jesus' confrontations with the tempter while spending some alone-time in the wilderness. This was a location where Jesus might have hoped for some solitude for the purpose of quiet reflection after being filled with the Holy Spirit immediately following his baptism. It was now time to prepare for his upcoming ministry.
But here, even in this desolate place, Jesus was interrupted - not once, but three different times, by an opposing spirit whose main purpose was to test Jesus' allegiance. Could it convert him; turn Jesus from following God's plan for him?
First, the test of self-indulgence – in this case, satisfying his hunger by using his own power to turn stones to bread. In another, the test of self-empowerment - to pursuade Jesus to rely on his own abilities to become ruler over all – to do things his way. There was only one stipulation. All Jesus had to do was to devote himself to this tempter, putting it first and foremost in his life. By allowing it to be in the driver's seat; to call the shots; it would be planning the agenda from that moment on. And then the final test was for Jesus to actually put his heavenly Father to the test. Did God really mean what he promised? If he hurled himself from a cliff, would he really send angels to come to his rescue? One way to find out. Why not try it to see if it works?
But Jesus knew better than to fall for any of the cunning ways of his opposition. Instead, he used the only weapons of defense he had. He was armed - with the Holy Spirit and the truths from the Word of God. 'Armed and dangerous' indeed for this particular encounter. Proving to his tempter, by every word and action that he was indeed the Son of God, this tempter could not claim a victory against Jesus.
But Jesus' provocotive tempter was cunning; also 'armed and dangerous'. In my opinion, very dangerous, because he not only was able to quote from Scripture, but what he quoted were half-truths, stating only the parts of the Word that supported his intentions.
Have we ever experienced such encounters; where someone tries to prove their point by quoting only the section of Scripture that supports their argument? Or, maybe the confrontation wasn't with another, but within ourselves.
Don't you find that we need to constantly be on our guard against becoming over-confident in our work for the Lord? Self-indulgence manoeuvres its way in and tries to convince us that we can interpret God's Word to suit ourselves. Self-empowerment causes individuals to misuse the powers they possess, all in the name of religion. And, maybe we make the decision to cut corners and not to do things exactly as instructed by God, but we choose to take another route - because it would be so much easier and, surely God would understand, and see things our way.
After reading these verses from Luke's gospel, I believe the question I must ask myself is, just how loyal am I? How far do my devotions go? Am I never tempted to put myself in the driver's seat; to make my own decisions; to write my own agendas? It's my life, after all!
All of these tests that Jesus endured went beyond just satisfying or empowering himself. And we are faced with the same tests today. Will we serve God, or another?Does God's will for us really come first and foremost in our lives? What would it take for us to give our allegiance to another? Imagine what might have happened if Jesus had given in to just one of these temptations or tests.
By enduring all that he encountered, Jesus was enabled to sympathize with our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, our shortcomings. I believe he was able to realize how our faith and our loyalty to God can be so cunningly challenged.
So, let's remember the Boy Scouts' motto: Be prepared!. We too can be 'armed and dangerous' when our allegiance to God is tested. We might be unable to find the Scripture quotation that we need on the spur of the moment in order to defend ourselves as Jesus did. But, if we can only remember one, let us always bring to mind this quote from 1 John 4:4 “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”.
Message - Frances Jones - Feb. 24, 2019 Shine It Forward Two years ago I delivered a message concerning this very special sermon known as the sermon on the mount. As Jesus spoke at length to his disciples, along with any others who chose to listen, he concentrated his entire message on what I like to refer to as the 'be' attitudes. One thing that we noticed about Jesus' sermon was the positiveness of it compared to the whole list of 'do nots' of the Ten Commandments, or the Laws of Moses. Jesus was delivering a new covenant, reassuring his followers that his message was not meant to abolish the old law, but to fulfil it. It's like telling a young child, 'don't touch the stove', or 'don't play in the road', 'don't eat that', without explaining why. As Jesus continued his very long message, he explained to his listeners why they should not do this or that as he touched on subjects such as an eye for an eye, loving enemies, adultery, and passing judgement on others, just to name a few. Today there is a question I would like us to ponder. When Jesus instructed his listeners about being poor in spirit, and meek; and about being peacemakers, and merciful, do you think he meant that this was the way to be saved, or was this the way the saved ought to be? Even though the recommended reading for today was Luke's version of the 'be' attitudes, I chose instead to discuss what was written in Matthew's gospel for Jesus' famous sermon. Compared to Luke, Matthew included more topics that Jesus covered as he continued his teaching there on the mount. It's when we read the entire length of the 5th chapter of Matthew, followed by the 6th, and then the 7th in its entirety, that we realize just how long this sermon must have been. That's only 109 verses of Jesus speaking about the expectations of anyone choosing to follow him. Don't panic! Today we will review just a small fraction of that very special sermon, and I'll leave the rest for you to read. Do you think that Jesus was cramming a whole lot of information into the time he had with them? Concerning how they were to live as citizens of the kingdom of God, there was so much to teach and so little time. So, while he had their attention, Jesus kept teaching, covering topic after topic. Matthew 7: 1-5 I have to admit that personally this is a tough message. I had to ask myself, 'how many days go by that I don't act as judge, jury and executioner', especially after listening to the latest news on the radio or T.V. However we consume the media, we are bombarded with information, including people's opinions on everything from how a certain country is being governed to what so-and-so was wearing on the red carpet. We love to express our opinions. Lines are blazing on the radio talk shows as people call in, wanting to be heard. Text messages pour in with people expressing their points of view on a meriad of subjects. The question: 'do I want to be judged the same way that I'm judging that other individual?' Occasionally, in the classroom at school, there would be a specific child or adolescent who would habitually demonstrate (we'll call it unpleasant) conduct. The natural instinct is to refer to this kid as a disturber, a brat, a nuisance. In reality, do we know the reason they are acting out? What's life like at home? Were there unpleasantries within the family that morning? Was there frustration over running out of bread or milk, or that someone took the last piece of toilet paper? And, what happened on their bus ride to school? So many unknowns. Sometimes we are ready to make a quick judgment based only on what we've seen or heard, even if it's only a part of the whole story. Do we want that same treatment from others for us? Do you remember your parents telling you, 'keep your own back yard clean before you look at your neighbour's yard'. And that is usually enough to keep us busy. ~ ~ ~ Jesus taught his listeners to love their enemies. Matthew 5: 43-48 Does this sound like what they had heard from the Teachers of the Law? They were to love their neighbour and hate their enemy, or so they thought. Love your enemies? How easy is that? If we are being persecuted (slandered or mistreated) in some way by another individual, it hurts. In reality, we may tolerate them, mind our manners and try to be polite, but love them? Jesus' solution was to pray for them. You know that person who gets under your skin, rubs you the wrong way, makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, and your blood pressure to go sky-high. . . Jesus' answer is to put them in God's hands as we pray for them. We may never know what effect this will have on that person, but for us, it unloads an unnecessary burden. ~ ~ ~ Finally, I'd like to touch on Jesus' instructions concerning salt and light. Matthew 5: 13-16 As they sat or stood before Jesus, his listeners heard that they were the salt of the earth. 'Really – salt? How can that be?' They knew that salt was a commodity that could have been used as offerings; as currency; even for medicinal purposes. It relieved stings, bites and itchy rashes. (And, from experience with this cold, I know that's it's also good for gargling to relieve a sore throat!). These listeners were also aware that salt was useful as a preservative, to avoid spoilage and decay. And, as a seasoning used in cooking, salt makes an otherwise dull or bland meal quite savoury. Salt was in high demand, a precious commodity indeed. Was Jesus saying that they too were a precious commodity to his mission? They were warned, however, that salt that is no longer salty is good for absolutely nothing. It's worthless. What is Jesus saying about those of us who no longer act as peacemakers by relieving irritations within the community; or do not preserve against corruption, like false doctrines; or who make the choice not to spread some seasoning around by enhancing the worship with our presence and our support? Being referred to as the salt of the earth? Food for thought! ~ ~ ~
Jesus also referred to his listeners as the light of the world. We don't realize how much we miss the light, until we find ourselves in complete, or even partial, darkness. After many short, cloudy winter days when we the sun rises late and sets early, we tend to feel a bit droopy and we lack energy. Also, when the power goes off suddenly, the first thing we do is scurry around, groping to find a flashlight, hoping it has batteries that work. Or we search for some candles just to spread a little light in order to cut through the darkness. But, what if our neighbour is also in darkness and has no flashlight or candles? Jesus said nothing about keeping that light to ourselves. Quite the contrary! As members of the kingdom of God, we are expected to let that light shine so it's visible all around. God's light shining through us just might allow others to benefit from its glow. We like to believe that we have a light inside us that reveals who we are and whose we are. In reality, just how easy is it to let this light shine in all circumstances? We get irritated – by events; at times, by people. We allow cares, worries, burdens and concerns of all kinds, to interfere with this light until it is practically snuffed out.
We could be surprised where we might find this light shining in order to brighten our path. God's light can be found in some unexpected places. Here's a little story of a man named Joe who humbly let his light shine.
“Make Me Like Joe”, by Tony Campolo (From Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul)
Quote: “If you think you can't make a difference, think again.”
Joe was a drunk who was miraculously converted at a mission house. Prior to his conversion, Joe had gained the reputation of being a hopeless dirty wino for whom there was no hope, only a miserable existence in the ghetto. But following his conversion to a new life with God, everything changed. Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known. Joe spent his days and nights hanging out at the mission, doing whatever needed to be done. There was never any task that was too lowly for Joe to take on. There was never anything that he was asked to do that he considered beneath him. Whether it was cleaning up the vomit left by some violently sick person or scrubbing the toilets after careless men left the men's room filthy, Joe did what he could with a smile on his face and a seeming gratitude for the chance to help. He could be counted on to feed feeble men who wandered into the mission off the street, and to undress and tuck into bed men who were too out of it to take care of themselves. One evening, when the mission director was delivering his evangelistic message to the usual crowd of still and sullen men with drooped heads, one man looked up, came down the aisle to the alter and knelt to pray. He cried out for God to help him to change. The repentant drunk kept shouting, “Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Please, God, make me like Joe!” The director of the mission leaned over and said to the man, “Son, I think it would be better if you prayed, 'Make me like Jesus'. The man looked up at the director with a quizzical expression on his face and asked, “Is he like Joe?”
~ ~ ~
When I read this story, I wondered if Joe had listened to the Hank Williams song, 'I Saw the Light'. Some of the words are:
Just like a blind man I wandered along Worries and fears I claimed for my own Then like the blind man that God gave back his sight Praise the Lord I saw the light.
As we end our discussion for this morning, let us take a moment to think about someone (possibly a very unexpected someone) who has helped to illuminate our path. Sometimes when we go to visit a patient in the hospital, or a shut-in, we go with the intention of brightening their day, when in fact, it's our day that's brightened by them.
There was so much for these disciples of Jesus to comprehend from this 'special delivery' of the sermon on the mount. And we still have lots to learn in order to be light in dark places. What can we learn from the repentant beggar; from the non-judgmental individual who shows mercy instead of condemnation; and from the peacemaker who builds a bridge between us and our adversaries? As they are casting light upon us, let us shine it forward, casting his light for others.