Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We had hope

As I get ready for the service this coming Sunday, I should note that we are going to have a bunch of Sea Cadets in the congregation. They are coming to help the congregation commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic. It is important for us for a couple of reasons. One is that we need to give thanks for those who worked and fought to bring freedom and life to those who were dying and under the boot of tyranny.  The other is to reconnect with that part of the Christian faith which compels us to go and lay down our lives in service to God and for those we call friends and neighbours. Self sacrifice is a trait we often lack in our modern society. That is why it is important to remember: so that when the needs be, we are prepared to emulate it.

That brings me to a piece of history that happen during the Battle of the Atlantic. It is called the Battle of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence. Supplies for the war effort during the Second World War were being shipped from Canada and the United States to the United Kingdom. To prevent the UK from remaining strong and able to resist, Germany sent out submarine patrols called “wolf packs”. During the first couple of years, the wolf packs sank a lot of boats and cargo meant for the English and for the invasion of mainland Europe. U boat 69 had made an attack on a ship near Quebec City in the Fall of 1942 and that had many people in Canada enraged.

What steeled the opinion and strength of the country was what happened next – the sinking of the S.S. Caribou. The Caribou was a passenger ferry that ran back and forth from North Sydney, NS to Port aux Basques, NL.  The Caribou left Nova Scotia about 930pm on the night of October 13th 1942, belching out lots of thick black smoke as the HMCS  Grandmere – a Canadian Naval Minesweeper sent for protection - trailed in her wake. At 340 am the next morning, U-69’s Captain, Ulrich Graf,  having mistaken the pair ships he had been trailing for a trio of grain ships he was ordered to sink, put a single torpedo through Caribou’s starboard side, sending her to the bottom. There were only 60 kilometres from Port aux Basques at the time of the sinking. Of the 202 people aboard the Caribou that night 136 souls perished, including Captain Benjamin Tavenor and his two sons. Survivors were rescued by the Grandmere and brought to Port aux Basques. It was said in the days after the sinking that entire families were wiped out. Most of the dead were from the Port aux Basques area.

It should also be noted here that by the end of World War two, over 80% of the wolf packs had been sunk by the Allies as they transported supplies, troops, planes and other things needed for the invasion of German occupied Europe. Without the bravery and sacrifice of so many more Newfoundlanders and Canadians, the efforts of D-Day in Normandy and the end of the War would not have been possible.

The families of those died aboard the Caribou that night, as so many of us do when we face and deal with loss would have asked the same questions, wondered the same things and tried to examine it all to a satisfactory end, only to say, “We had hoped...”  It is not unlike the two travelers we encounter in the Gospel Lesson this week (Luke 24.13-35). They had hoped. They had hoped that Jesus was the one to deliver them from the oppression of the Roman government. They had hoped he would become king and would make Israel a strong nation again. They had hoped that things would have been different; that they would have been different. They had hoped. Then those hopes died with Jesus on the cross and those hopes were buried with him in the tomb. They had hopes and then those hopes were gone.

Into this situation, came a stranger who asked a simple question, “What things? What are you talking about?” The travelers stopped their trudging and looked amazed at the stranger and said Jesus of Nazareth of course!” Jesus goes on to teach them that what they heard that morning was the truth and that the things they are describing had to happen because it was God’s doing.

As the travelers approached home the invited the stranger into eat and stay with them over night, so that the conversation of the road could continue. It was at the table, at the breaking of the bread that brought to light that the companion who now breaks the bread is Jesus and then Jesus goes out from them. They knew that they knew he was there and was alive and they could not and did not wait to share this with the apostles because they immediately got up and returned the seven miles to Jerusalem. The followers of Jesus in those moments had to discover for themselves that there was still hope and because there was still hope, there was still life.

Faith hope and life all start with where people are and where they are at, not where they are intended or where we demand that they ought to be. We must walk with them and teach them. We must be reenchanted by the Word, live it and proclaim it. We need to show the world that the things which had grown old have been made new. We need to show the world that the things which had previously fallen down are being raised up. And most of all we need to show everyone that all things are being brought under the rule of Jesus Christ the risen Lord. We still have hope and his name is Jesus.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blessed are those who have yet to see but still believe

By now there are many who will consider Easter to be a bygone holiday, awaiting the next long weekend which for so many in our country heralds the start of the camping season. But in fact, we have eight more weeks of the Easter Season to go. Many might have gone away from the Easter experience wondering where Jesus’ body went. The women who went to visit the tomb came back telling some foolish tale about there being no body in the tomb. There was an earthquake, some dead soldiers (until they summoned the courage to run away) and an angel telling them to tell the disciples to make the trek back to Galilee (some 68 miles, and the country is only 90 miles long!) because they would see Jesus there. That was Sunday morning but the day and the wonderfully strange things didn’t finish there.

Most of what was left of the 12 where together along with others in the room where they had celebrated the Last Supper. The windows were shuttered and the doors were locked and bolted. Most of the 12 thought they were next and all of Jesus’ followers knew that they may be next to the cross or some other equally gruesome fate.

Then, like on the mountain top, when Jesus came back to James, John and Peter and touched them, raised them up from the fear of death because they knew they had been in the presence of the Father and they had heard the Father speak. Jesus greeted them with a “Shalom”. He then invited them to come and touch him to prove that he was not a mass delusion. See and touch the nail prints. Seen and touch the spear’s wound. See that it is really and truly me.

When they understood, then he greeted them again with “Shalom” – not just to take away the fear and foreboding but to replace it with all the good things that are going to be needed and necessary to make the important mission of the Church happen. The disciples could have been waiting for something different. They could have been waiting for the rebuke for the lack of faith and the willingness to persevere under difficult circumstances on Friday. Yet what they received is the opposite: they got forgiveness and mercy. They are invited into reconciliation by Christ himself. It is important for all of us to know this because it is for us, both to know and to proclaim. There is a simple reality that we as a congregation, as a Church need to be aware: we can tell people that they can be made free and serve God or not. Freedom and abundant, eternal life come to us precisely because we continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that we are free and have life in and through him.

This brings us to Thomas (John 20.19-31). I have heard him called everything from a doubter to a realist. Wanting to have the same experience as everyone else is not a doubt, it is a desire. He wants what others have. There is no harm or shame in that. He wants to be like his brothers. What is important for them and for us, is the faith and the trust that needs to be there day in and day out whether we can see him or not. There is blessing in being patient and waiting for your moment with Jesus because it will come. The key for us is not allowing for the moment between this one and that one to distract from believing and participating in the life that is now, because of the cross, a reality. In fact there is blessing for the one who lives the life and awaits the moment to be face to face with the Master. “Blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe.”

In the meantime, we must be people of the Word so that we can be and project the trust, the hope and the life we have in Christ. We need to be people who continue to believe because that instills and builds up the Church community through our active creativity and lively imaginations. We need to hold out the bread of life to both feed the hungry and to continue the journey towards the day that we will be at that final Feast. And we need to do this with a deep and abiding passion for the kingdom of God. After all, the most important thing is to go on believing, participating and waiting because our time and our turn with Jesus will come.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Its Friday, but Sunday is coming!

 John 19.28-42

After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.”29A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. 30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

      31Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; 33but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. 36For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN.” 37And again another Scripture says, “THEY SHALL LOOK ON HIM WHOM THEY PIERCED.”

      38After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.39Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

As I sit here to write for Good Friday, I have been reading the John’s account of the arrest and trials of Jesus. I have read over and over again the accounts of Jesus crucifixion, death and burial. It is of course familiar since this will be my 24th Good Friday since I began in full time ministry. The Gospels’ accounts of the last moments of Jesus’ life remain as powerful as ever; even in spite of the time that has passed from when I first started preaching until now.

It might amaze you to know that I have never really written a Good Friday sermon. I have tried many times to write a proper sermon. I have worked hard, spending much time trying to write a good sermon and yet I come back to one simple thing: I need to just tell the story and what I know about those last hours of Jesus’ life and allow them to speak to the people who listen to my preaching. The ways in which he suffered and the ways in which he endured and strove to overcome things to find victory all leading to that moment when he declares victor over the flesh, death, the grave and all our enemies. In that moment, Jesus boldly declares “it is finished” and gives up his life to God having been faithful to accomplish all that the Father had asked of him. Jesus lived out what he has taught his disciples, “No greater love has anyone than this: that he given up his life for his friends.”

When I consider those last hours I think of the strength and the dignity that Jesus showed and gave to those who would eventually step up and step out to bring forth the Church and actively proclaim the kingdom in the time ahead. He did it for the original followers sure, but also for me and you as ones who follow in their ancient footsteps. So many thought Jesus was dead and gone; that all he did and participated in was now finished. Kaput! Many in places and positions of authority thought that they had dealt with Jesus and he was no more. There would be no more miracles and outrageous teaching. There would be more challenges to those who could make a difference and there would be no more attempts to revolutionize the status quo. Jesus was now considered to be a man who found his end and would soon be out of mind. His followers were chased into the shadows, the corners and the dark places of the city. They would be easily dealt with if that became necessary.

What was it like to go back to that room where they had shared their final meal together? What would it have been like to go back and sit in the dark with the windows shuttered tight and the doors locked for fear of what happens next? Would it be you or me that they come for next? What would the dark do to me? How would I come through it?

Well, now I have somewhere to go as a direction as to what to preach on Friday and a basic theme. Maybe for the moment we have what we need to hang onto until we get to the light of Sunday morning. We know that he has told us he will rise again – he would suffer, be killed and rise again. Like seeds in the earth with him, we await that moment when we shall rise. We know it’s Friday... but Sunday is comin’!


Monday, April 14, 2014

The power of a moment with a towel

ove one another as I have loved you... Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet... By this (sign) all will know you to be my disciples, by your love one for another.  (John 13.1-17;31b -35)

Maundy Thursday is one of those days that ought to be our “ah-ha” moment to refocus what it is we do on Sundays and throughout the rest of the year. This is the moment when we are confronted with our agendas, lists and gripes about what God has not done for us and for what we have made of Christ in the past year we are confronted with some simple yet powerful things about who Christ is and who we are in Christ. All of us.

We are given the command again to love one another as Christ has loved each and all of us. Not just to “like” and give a check mark to someone on Facebook. Not just to learn to tolerate the person who irritates the living daylights out of you so that you don’t open up a hole in the earth and send them off to hell. We are to genuinely love and care for each and every person and to off them the grace that is within us the way that Jesus did and does... remember? “When you do it for the least of these, you did it to me?” I am sure that there are people you find hard to love and to serve, I have the same challenges to a lesser and greater degree. After all there are all kinds of people: white people and brown people; read people and yellow people. There are tall people and short people. There are thin people and wide people. There are people with brown hair, black hair red hair and no hair. There are people with blue eyes, green eyes, and brown eyes. There are people who go to Church and people who run away from the Church. We are called to live with and serve each and every one of them as Christ would.

Even at the table, as Judas Iscariot is thinking about make the trek to finally turn Jesus over to the authorities, Jesus gives him one last chance to stop and to turn around from the path that e is going to take – a pat that will lead to his own destruction. Judas is still bent on having the earthly kingdom, though Jesus has made it clear that is not going to happen. So Judas is going to force the issue and try and make Jesus an earthly king by forcing Jesus to protect himself and bring in God’s rule through divine power.

With those that remain, Jesus takes the time to teach them how to relate to each other in the days ahead. He washes each man’s feet. When Peter objects, he is told that this needs to be done for him to continue to participate. And all he needs to do is what each and everyone else has received. One is not greater that another – each is to love and serve the other. The greater the service, the better the servant. The better the servant, the stronger the leader becomes within the community that is to come – the Church. True greatness comes not from have power, wealth and position, but from learning and fervently serving those whom we find around us.

We are called to do just that: to genuinely care for each other in ways that are going to meet the needs (and not the wants or the greeds) of the neighbours and friends that we serve. In time, we will serve God and neighbour, not because we will have to but because we will have the desire to using the risen ascended life of him who died and lives for us.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

God loves it when a plan comes together

When I was a kid, there was a show on television called, “The A-Team”. Perhaps you might remember it. There were for characters: BA Barackus, Lieutenant “Face Man” Peck, Captain Mad Man Murdoch and their intrepid leader, Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith. There were a lot of catch phrases in the show like, “I pity the fool!” and “I have a bad felling about this”. But there was one that always came out from Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

I mention this because as the Gospel for Palm Sunday (Matthew 21.1-11) moves us now into the Triumphant procession in to the City of Jerusalem. And as we begin, we see a Jesus who is both in charge and confident of the things that are to happen next. Jesus’ ride into the city was not just a nice way to travel. It was a statement of claim on the city and the nation “Behold your king comes riding on a donkey”. It was understood that Jesus was laying claim to his earthly heritage as King for he was of the house and line of King David.

But what kind of King is Jesus and what is his kingdom like? Many thought they knew. And most expected it to be like an episode of “Game of Thrones”. It was going to be bloody, violent and deadly as everyone competed to be king of the mountain. And there were many who relished this moment with great anticipation. They wanted Jesus to kick butt and take names as they rose to prominence again amongst the nations of the earth. Is this the kind of kingdom that you want to live in? Everyone out for themselves to better themselves, gaining wealth, power with no limit to their ambitions as they work to retain the status quo?

Jesus didn’t come to give us what we want. He came to bring us what we need. Himself. The sight of Jesus riding on a donkey into the Holy City is first a sign of divine judgment. God has decided that things are going to change. The Father sent Jesus so that things would and could change. It meant the rising and falling of people in places of power and position. It meant the death of the idea of going back to the supposedly good old days of David and Solomon (which were not that happy in the first place) so that they could be independent again. But none of this was to advance the coming and building of God’s kingdom. It was to bring back and maintain a memory a life that had had its day and was passing swiftly away.

What we need to see in Scripture and in the Word made flesh is the promises of God. These promises are not just ones from the past or to hold on to for the future. God’s promises of life, of love, of kingdom are for this moment; for the here and now. We are servants of a king who sends us into this city to do as he bids and serve him. Christ calls us to come and participate in his work of redemption and reconciliation in this city, in our Father’s world. We are called to come and take off the grave clothes and let people go into life and community with our brothers and sisters. We need to be willing to pray for one another, for healing, for peace, for whatever the need is. And when necessary to draw in others who will share the burden and pray with you. All one need do is ask. God wants to do great things through this church – will you not stop and listen and then do?

If the kingdom is to come, ask yourself this: What if we chose to be heroes and heroines to other people in this city by simple acts of kindness and of care? What the congregation of 60 or so people connected with all our family, friends and neighbours, genuinely connected with them, collaborated with them and vest our time, talents, treasure, trees and tears in other to have a better city.

Does not the Christian faith ask more of us than simply parking ourselves in a pew for 75 minutes on a Sunday morning? Are we not called to reflect and amplify the abundant life of the King and the coming kingdom when this fading life and this transient world are finished? Wouldn't that kind of life and that kind of king be worth living, dying and rising for? It can. All we need do is come and participate. God loves it when his plan comes together.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Of life and death: it all matters.

Lazarus had a house with two sisters in it. Martha and Mary had a whole village to look after. When Lazarus took sick and there was fear of death, they sent word to Jesus that he would know and care and come quickly. Jesus waited 2 more days. When the time finally came for them to go to Lazarus, the sick man was already dead. Jesus went to wake him from his sleep. Thomas and the rest of the 12 understood what this meant. They knew that they were getting close to Jerusalem, and to the confrontation with authority that could and would lead to the death of Jesus and possibly of some of them. That is why the disciples went: to be with Jesus so long as they could, even if it meant a grim fate.

It reminds me of something a parishioner once told me. He was passing by the church on a Sunday morning. The parking lot and the roads were filled with cars. This parishioner had a teenage son with him. The boy asked his father, “Who died now?”

The father replied, “Oh it’s not another funeral. No one has died. The Bishop is here. It’s confirmation.”

The story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11.1-45) is the point at which everything in the Gospel of John now turns so that we can see the plan of God for salvation to give people life versus the conspiracy of man to give death to just one man to maintain the status quo. The good news of God in Christ stresses the desire of God for people to have life, and have the kind of life that overflows to give life to other people. Against this, we see other plotting to take the lives of Jesus and of Lazarus, so that people will stay the same. They want to kill so that they can remain the same.

People in our North American culture are genuinely afraid of death. They will also willing deal out death to anyone who would significantly change their lives without considering whether it was better or worse to do so. We will do almost anything to avoid it, including being frozen after death until we can be cured and then resuscitated so that the rest of our natural lives can be lived out. Does that not seem strange to you? So then, let me ask you: do you know the difference between a grave and a ditch? There has been both a beginning and an end to the grave. We know walk with Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death. In the presence of Jesus, death and the grave are defeated foes. They no longer have a hold on us because we walk with Christ. He is the difference maker. I am not advocating that there won’t be trouble or that Christians don’t feel pain or cry. Of course we do. Jesus did. Jesus stood at the grave of his friend and only shed tears over what he saw.

Keep in mind, that those tears were not just for the loss of a friend. Jesus understood what death was for us. He was waiting the moment when he would face his own pain and death. He saw how we were reacting and trying to avoid pain and death and it made him cry. We can boldly proclaim to God, “If you had been here... this would have to happen.” Jesus understood the sense of helplessness and of hopelessness that we have in facing death and the grave. He is here. He is the Way, the Truth and most of all he is Life. What we need do is trust him all the way home.

Resurrection and new life, as we shall soon discover, are not nice and easy things like bunnies and new brightly covered hats. Resurrection and new birth are messy, painful things too. Resurrection is new life forged out of death. We must bear the scars. That is why one of the most profound things Jesus said in his ministry is this: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” We are let go into life, into freedom and back into the community and the family we love that we might be with them forever in love, in service and in worship of God.