Do Not be Afraid – Christmas will survive Advent

Advent is my favourite season of the church year. 

In fact, I weirdly start longing for Advent sometime in September most years. I get tired of the long season of Green or Ordinary Time. Usually by Thanksgiving (celebrated the 2nd Sunday of October in Canada), I am ready for anything but more parables from the Gospels. I ready to see anything but same-old, same-old green paraments hanging from the chancel furnishings. I am ready for the deep, rich blues of advent to begin. Don’t tell anyone, but by that time of year, I sometimes even long for snow!

As a kid, Advent always bore this mysterious quality for me. The church I grew up in used to hang this huge advent wreath from the 50ft. sanctuary ceiling – like seriously, it was the size of a small kitchen table. And this elderly usher would lower it down using a pulley system during the children’s message so that we could light the appropriate number of candles. The shaky old usher often looked like he was about to let the whole thing go and the wreath would come crashing down on our heads. That was part of the fun for sure.

Yet, I also remember the little seen blue stole that the pastor wore for just a few weeks. I remember the haunting verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel that we would sing in anticipation of Messiah. I remember hearing the stories of that interesting figure “John the Baptist” and the camel’s hair clothes he wore, and the locusts or giant grass hoppers he ate. I remember the wild sermons he preached, and how the drama of his words seemed to echo in the sanctuary:

       Prepare the way of the Lord
      Make his paths straight

But the exciting images of Advent lessons didn’t end there. The best story of Advent – and one of the best of the whole year – was the story of the Angel coming to Mary. I loved hearing those fist words the angel speaks, I could imagine a young girl just going about her business in her room and suddenly somthing, someone beyond worlds appeared to her:

        Do not be afraid

Of course! Of course, the Angel would say that! Because meeting an angel would be the coolest and most terrifying thing ever!

Advent has the best stories, and they have stuck with me since being a kid. These days as a pastor, I start getting excited weeks ahead of when I have to preach them. I start letting those words of John, those words of the Angel and words of Mary percolate in my mind so that I am ready to preach them when the time comes.

Increasingly the past few years, Christmas has been creeping into Advent. Sure there have always been Christmas parties during advent, and choir/band/orchestra christmas concerts, and Christmas displays in malls. But Christmas seems to more ubiquitous than ever and before Advent even starts.

And maybe I didn’t notice it as much as kid, but it feels like the whole world is joining in the generic Christmas celebration. Almost everyone celebrates Christmas these days, whereas Christmas used to be a mostly churchy thing to do… or at least not a very big deal to non-religious folk.

And who am I to judge? If the secular world needs a cultural celebration to fend off the darkness of winter, to spread joy and cheer, to make an excuse to give and receive gifts, than great! Christians appropriated Christmas from pagan winter solstice traditions, why can’t the secular world borrow Christianity’s holy day in order turn our dark time of year into a celebratory time?

It is even interesting to watch the secular world work out how the commercial and cultural celebration works for it and I am fine with that. This year there was a movement in Canada to keep stores from putting out the Christmas displays until after Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th). Many stores start their Christmas campaign November 1st, right after the halloween campaign has been put to bed with a candy hangover.

Despite my willingness to share Christmas, the people I don’t get are the Christians who start fighting this fictitious “War on Christmas” around November 1st or 12th. Even government officials are capitalizing on this unfounded fear that the phrases “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” are going to take the Christ out of Christmas. Or that Xmas isn’t a long held Christian short hand. I think we are afraid of losing something and so we hold on more tightly.

The idea that Christians are in any way persecuted in Canada is about as absurd as saying Canadians don’t care about Hockey. But I will leave the persecution bit for another post.

What bothers me about the War on Christmas is that its real opponent seems to be Advent.

Christians seem to forget that Advent even exists. Maybe instead of being offended by Happy Holidays, we should be correcting Merry Christmas with Happy Advent.

Because here is the thing: Christmas needs Advent.

We need Advent.

Christmas without Advent is like giving birth without pregnancy. It is like opening a novel in the middle of the story. It is like skipping the first half of every movie you watch.

It is like Easter without Good Friday, or the story of the Fall in Genesis without the story of Creation and paradise, or the story of the Israelites coming to the promise land without the story of leaving Egypt.

So often we want to make Christmas about idyllic manger scenes with little drummer boys, sheep and donkeys, angels and shepherds, when Christmas is about un-wed mothers, the oppression of Empire, and the slaughter of children.

I think we want to imagine Christmas an unblemished perfect little story, because we are afraid of the darkness.

Advent reminds us Christmas is not about nostalgia and sentimentalism. It isn’t just singing Silent Night while holding a candle on Christmas Eve.

We need Advent because it tells us the whole story. It tells us the deeper story. John the Baptist, the Angel and Mary are not just cool characters in rich narrative. They are powerful symbols and reminders that we are still Advent people.

Advent reminds us that Christmas – that the birth of Messiah – is for a world still waiting in darkness, still waiting for justice, still waiting for healing. Advent tell us that Messiah isn’t just a cute baby born in a barn to poor parents. Advents tells us that Messiah is God’s answer to human darkness. God’s light sent to people living under the thumb of the Roman Empire, people living under the oppression of white privilege in Ferguson and Staten Island, people living in the systemic poverty imposed on the Indigenous people of Canada, women living under the constant threat of sexism, misogyny and sexual violence, people who practice a religion different than the empire’s being forced to celebrate holy-days that the White Christian Empire accuses them of taking away.

The symbols of Advent still draw me in just like they did as a kid. Even though I am the one putting on the blue stole, and reading the words of John the Baptist, the Angel and Mary. And even when I get crochety because Christmas music is playing in the malls in the middle of November and my Facebook feed is full of people worried that Christmas might lose Christ because someone wished them Happy Holidays, Advent reels me in.

Because I need Advent too.

I need Advent and its promise of a new world, its hope given to a world that feels hopeless too often and because of those four little lights that push away the darkness in order to make room – to make room for Messiah.

Messiah who is already here, but still on the way.

So do not be afraid.


What does Advent mean to you? How do you observe Advent? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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Advent Waiting: Ferguson, Sexism and Black Friday

I have been hesitant to add my own privileged commentary to issues surrounding Ferguson and sexual violence against women. I normally try to share and retweet the voices of the oppressed. But as a preacher, I can’t keep silent. Here is the text of the sermon preached to my congregation this morning. 

Mark 13:24-37

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near…

Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Read the whole lesson here)

Sermon

Keep Awake. The world is waiting. 

The world is waiting for justice. Waiting for peace. Waiting for healing.

Keep awake. This week we watched as the people of Ferguson waited for answers, waited for justice… and then we saw a system stacked against justice rule to protect the privileged. And we saw the results. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Rioting is the language of the unheard.”

The world is waiting for Justice.

Keep Awake. This week we witnessed hoards of people flock to malls and stores in order to get Black Friday deals. In order to engage in retail therapy, the attempt to fill empty hearts by emptying full wallets.

The world is waiting for healing.

Keep Awake. This week heard news and reminders that violence against women, misogyny and sexism are not things of the past. We heard the charges laid against CBC radio host and celebrity Jian Ghomeshi, the allegations made by elected MPs of harassment. We have heard that two men have been charged in the case of Rinelle Harper, a 16-year-old girl left for dead on the banks of the Assiniboine left after being assaulted and violated.

The world is waiting for peace. 

Today, is the first Sunday of Advent. And we know it is Advent, not just because of the calendar, but because we are no longer surprised by the Christmas music playing in the malls, or the Christmas lights that light up night-time streets and highways, or the fact that the Santa Claus parade was already two weeks ago.

Last Sunday, we concluded the church year, and today we turn the page onto a new one. As Christians, we observe a calendar slightly offset from the secular one. Our church year begins with Advent in late November, a good month or so ahead of January 1st. And like regular New Year’s, Advent is partly about a chance to start over, to leave behind the baggage of the previous year, and make a fresh beginning.

But Advent is no so much about resolutions, as it is about preparation. Preparation and waiting. Advent is the 4 weeks before Christmas, and is centered around hearing the stories that prepare us for the birth of Messiah. And like the season of Lent before Easter, Advent is season that is toned down, a season for reflection and thoughtfulness. But Advent is not about penitence or preparing ourselves to hear about Christ’s death is like Lent is. Instead, Advent is hopeful and full of anticipation. If Lent is the church season of waiting on Death Row or in Palliative Care, Advent is the season of pregnancy.

And each Advent season, we start on week 1, Sunday 1 hearing about the end. Hearing about the coming of the Son of Man. Advent waiting begins with waiting for Jesus. Waiting for the Messiah to come with the people of Israel, waiting for child to be born in a manger, and waiting for the second coming, for Jesus to return for that big cosmic ending.

And so today, before we get to John the Baptist, or before we get to angels making announcements to virgins, we hear Jesus’ words about the end of time. Keep Awake, he says, because no one knows the day nor the hour.

What an odd place to begin the church year. What an odd place to start Advent. December should start with digging boxes of Christmas lights out of storage, and checking off lists for Christmas shopping. This end of the world stuff doesn’t seem to fit.

As Jesus tells his disciples to Keep Awake, it becomes abundantly clear, that as modern people, we have no idea what waiting really is. The people of ancient Israel lived in a world of waiting so different from ours.

The world of the disciples was full of waiting… as Jesus reminds them of the lesson of the fig tree, we too can learn something. The people of Ancient Israel lived by a lunar calendar. This means that they organized their months by cycles of the moon rather than by the earth moving around the sun. More concretely, their months were all either 29 or 30 days long. Any month could be 29 or 30 days. Their years were either 12 months or 13 months long. Any year could be 12 or 13 months. So how did they know?

Well, when at least couple of people observed the new moon at end of the month, they would tell the temple authorities (the church council) who would then send out messengers to let the people know that the month had changed. And then at the end of the year (which was usually around our February or March), if spring still seemed far off, the temple authorities would just add another month to the end of the year.

Take a moment and think about that. Imagine if we had to read the papers or watch the news to find out which day our months ended on. And imagine if a couple of weeks before the end of the year, we found out there would be another December.

The is why the Ancient Israelites had to watch the leaves of the Fig tree to know when summer began, their calendars couldn’t be trusted. Instead, they had to trust the signs around them, they had to trust their community to keep awake together, trust their leaders to make sure good decisions were made.

We wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves in a world like that. We don’t know how to wait in that way. We don’t live our lives with an openness to things happening sooner than we expect, or not happening when we want them to. We live with set schedules, with fixed time limits, with predictable dates. In fact, you can tell just how bad we are at waiting by the question we love to torture kids with this time of year, “How many sleeps until Christmas?”

And while we are not good at waiting in the same way the people of ancient Israel were used to, we do wait. We wait just like they did. Maybe not for extra days or extra months but we wait for salvation like they did. We wait for Justice like them, we wait for peace, we wait for healing.

And in Advent, we wait for Messiah too.

They waited for Messiah in Jerusalem, on the banks of the Jordan and Bethlehem. They waited to be freed from oppression from Empire, they waited for God’s mercy and love to make them clean, they waited to be lifted up from their suffering.

And we wait for Messiah in Ferguson, in Ottawa, on the banks of the Assiniboine, and here right now among us. And whether we are good at it or not, our waiting is not measured by the number of sleeps until Christmas, nor on calendars, schedules or to do lists.

Like the ancient Israelites, our waiting for Messiah is measured in small glimpses of Hope.

Messiah came to Ancient Israel in the form of a carpenter turned preacher telling of the coming of the son man to expectant crowds. Messiah comes to us as people of faith speak out about the injustices of Ferguson and stand with a community grieving and oppressed.

Messiah was preached by a hermit crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Messiah is preached today, as we refuse to consume and spend as if it were therapy, as we proclaim a counter-cultural message of waiting and anticipation, instead of immediate gratification.

Messiah was promised and announced to young woman, not yet married. And it was an unremarkable girl, overlooked by the world around her who bore God’s promise into the world with a man who should have stoned her instead of staying faithful.

And Messiah is promised and announced here as a community rallies around a young girl left for dead on the river banks, declaring violence against women and minorities is unacceptable.

Our hopeful waiting is for a Messiah who comes in small unexpected places, who comes no matter how good we are waiting, who comes to bring justice, peace and healing.

Keep Awake, says Messiah. The world is waiting.

Keep awake and see that Advent is not a countdown to Christmas, but a chance to see that the signs of Messiah’s coming, Messiah who may come tomorrow or in a lifetime.

But Jesus also says something else.

Today Jesus declares that no matter how dark the world seems,

The Son of Man is coming.

No matter whether we wait with patience or with anxiousness,

The Messiah is entering our world. 

Regardless the powers of injustice, violence and suffering,

Salvation promised, will come to us. 

Our waiting will not be in vain, our longing for a better world does not go unnoticed by God.

Keep Awake Jesus says, not as command to keep vigilante. But Keep Awake is a promise. A promise that in our Advent waiting, there will ever growing light in our darkness, that our hope is in Messiah and the signs say Messiah is on the way.

Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

The Crime of the Parable of the Talents

Matthew 25:14-30

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, `Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, `You wicked and lazy slave!… (Read the whole passage here).

Sermon

This parable of the talents is a familiar stewardship parable for us. It has been preached that talents are gifts of time, money and abilities that we are to give to the Church. We all have been told that God gives us gifts that we should return to the church, and not just return to the church, but return twice fold. This is stewardship we are told, stewardship at its best. God has given us all that we have and so as good little Christians we should give back twice as much. We should give back twice the amount that God gives us. We limited, finite, terminal creatures of creation must give back to the Almighty creator, twice what we have been given. Surely some of us must be wondering how on earth this will work.

Perhaps it is that preachers seem to like this parable too much. Maybe the chance to use Jesus’ words to scold the poor folks in the pew for not giving enough simply cannot be resisted. Maybe the chance to say something that sounds like good pastoral care advice for those who come asking how they can participate in the life of the church is an opportunity that this parable provides, and an opportunity that should never be wasted. Maybe the chance to guilt those who only take and take from congregations, into giving a little back, is just too tasty to let be.

But, is this parable really about a God who guilts us into giving? Does the God of stable mangers, the God of nail pierced hands and feet, the God of empty tombs and being known in breaking bread really operate with guilt trips? Does this God really say “look at all I have given to you… and now you owe it back twice over… or at least give me the going interest rate”. Is God really like this harsh master who steals from his neighbours, who makes threats like: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

The reality of this parable is that it is about real money and not so much about talents  like playing the organ, or hammering nails, knitting sweaters, or public speaking. And making this parable about our gifts and skills is a disservice to the meaning of this parable. The Greek word, “Talonton” can only be understood as a large sum of money. Its measured in gold or silver, its 10 to 15 years wages, one talent can be anywhere from one thousand to a million dollars…  And the rich man who gives talents to his servants seems to be so rich that he is able to play around with millions of dollars. It is estimated that the 5 talents given to the 1st servant could have been worth anywhere from 1.2 million to 5 million dollars today. The rich man is so rich that money has become a toy for him, not to mention the lives of his servants.

Sounds a lot like how God treats us?

No, not really.

This rich landowner can only be passed off as God-like when we make greed and power true God-like qualities. We can only call this money a gift when we imagine money to be more important than anything else in our world. We can only see this parable as having something to do with stewardship when making money is something noble and divine, no matter how we make it.

Like last week’s parable of the 10 Bridesmaids, the parable of the talents cannot be reduced to straight forward comparisons. God is not the rich man, and we are not the servants of varying financial ability. In fact, if we really think about where God is in this parable it is not so easy to see. To demand profit, to make money on the backs of others, to worship greed and power and the almighty dollar are such human qualities.

And yet, when we consider the 3rd servant. The one who buries the 1 talent in the ground in fear… there is more to his story when we take the time to consider it. The 3rd servant is portrayed as a coward, yet he is the only one who refuses to participate in the system of greed, wealth and power. He is the only one who speaks honestly and boldly to the rich man. He is the only one who names the truth, that the rich man is harsh, that he steals and he is judgemental. And what does all this get the 3rd servant? It is gets him cast into the outer darkness with nothing.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

In fact, it is the story of the chapter of Matthew that follows this parable. It is the story of Good Friday. The story of another servant we know, one who speaks truth to human power, and who is killed and then buried in the ground, in the tomb, just like that 1 talent.

The parable of the talents when preached as if it were lesson in stewardship is a crime against the people sitting in the pews. Preaching that talents are something we ought to return to two-fold to God does not do justice to the story of God among us, the story of the creator come down to creation.

Earning money or interest has nothing to do with the story of God who entered into our grieving, to grieve with us, to share his own broken body and shed blood, but also to proclaim the unearthing to come. To proclaim that the true things of great value that we bury in ground shall be raised up, with New Life and with New Joy.

The idea of doubling our money for God makes no sense to the God who proclaims us, proclaims all of creation to be of the greatest value and worth. Today, instead of telling us to give our talents, gifts and time to God, God is declaring that the unearthing Christ, the one buried and then raised from the dead is not interested in wealth and power, but instead interested in us. Christ is interested in showing a nothing, failing dead humanity, that even when we are dead and buried, there is New Life unearthed for us.

Amen. 

I have never been more proud of the CBC than I am this week

These have been emotional and heavy days in Canada.

It began in tragedy when two soldiers were killed on home soil, only to be followed by a huge domestic violence scandal involving one of the biggest media personalities in the country. Jian Ghomeshi, host of CBC Radio Q, an arts and culture program that runs each weekday, has been fired from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

As this story continues to break, with more women coming forward, with more and more accusations, with PR firms running from Jian like he is a leper, with news and opinion pieces detailing just how devastating this has been on CBC employees, with a whole community around Jian having been waiting for years for the truth to come out about him, it is becoming clearer that Jian Ghomeshi is a deeply troubled man.

As an aside, during my training to become a pastor, I took a unit of clinical pastoral education. I spent three months as a student hospital chaplain. I worked in a mental hospital and there I got a first-hand look at their forensic psychiatry unit. Part of the unit was a sex offenders program. As students, we didn’t work with this program, but we did spend time with the health professionals who did work with the program and we were allowed to interact with patients.

What I learned through these experiences is that violent sexual predilections are not really about sex. They are about power and control. They are about deep insecurities and pathologies that can only be dealt with through therapy. Jian Ghomeshi claimed that these allegations were issues of consent (although it is clear they aren’t), even though the Supreme Court of Canada has said that people cannot consent to violence. Given the testimonies of the women who are telling their stories of violence and abuse at Ghomeshi’s hands, I have no doubt that Jian needs help. Lots of help.

But even more so, his victims need help. They need our help, support and compassion.

So much of the story has been about Jian, about his downfall. But this is also another #YesAllWomen, another #GamerGate, another #BringBackOurGirls, another Ray Rice, 10 hours of New York street harassment, Male Privilege and so on. This is about more than Jian, this is about all violence towards all women.

Jian’s victims need us to stand with them. They need us to unreservedly believe them and the accounts of their experiences. They need us to condemn Jian’s acts and all forms of violence against women.

And that is exactly what the CBC did this week.

As Canada struggled through the Ottawa shooting, the CBC covered the story with dignity. They told the stories of the heroism of Kevin Vickers and the sacrifice Nathan Cirillo, more than they told the story of the shooter.

And when CBC executives discovered that Jian Ghomeshi had committed violence against women, the CBC immediately suspended him, and planned to fire him. They did so knowing he was one of their most popular personalities and hosted their flagship radio program. They stood by their actions, they risked a 55 million dollar lawsuit (although not very serious), and they have been willing to risk their brand and image (more serious). And in the days since they have condemned his actions, they have interviewed his victims objectively and reported the story about their former colleague. I couldn’t imagine any news and media corp doing the same dispassionately and objectively.

I couldn’t be more proud of Canada’s public broadcaster. I am sad that it has taken these events to demonstrate just how honourable and upstanding this iconic institution is, but it is the silver lining of these past dark days.

The CBC and its employees have shown tremendous poise and grace in an impossible situation. It is going to be long road past this, but I have full confidence that the CBC will come through it.

Full disclosure: I have been a big fan and regular listener of Q since the very first episode 8 years ago.

Last March, my wife and I attended a live taping of Q in Winnipeg. At the time is was an awesome experience, and now those memories are sullied.

But if anything has been shown in these past days, the Jian that so many Canadian listeners know and love of Q with Jian Ghomeshi, is not Jian Ghomeshi the man. The Jian we know was a carefully scripted and produced personality that took a whole team to create. The host of Q we all loved was just as much the writers, producers and other staff as it was the guy with a smooth voice who greeted us each morning at 10:07am.

If Q continues, I will continue being a fan with whomever becomes the new host. And while CBC is probably considering discontinuing the program entirely, I hope it continues. If it is cut, it will be a small victory for Jian Ghomeshi – vindication that the show couldn’t go on without him. But if it does go on, and we love it and follow it just the same without him, it will show Jian the narcissist that Q was never all about him. It will show him that his perceived power over Canadian media and his perceived power over women was never what he thought it was.

It will show him who we really stand behind and who we really loved.


What do you think of the CBC? Have they done the right thing? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

A Reformation Sermon for Canada and the Ottawa Shooting

John 8:31–36

36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (Read the whole passage here)

Sermon

This week our nation has endured great tragedy.

On Monday two soldiers were run down with a car, and one of the them, Patrice Vincent died of his injuries. And then on Wednesday we all heard the news come over the radio, tv or internet. There had been a shooting on Parliament hill, a solider had been killed at the National War Memorial, and then there were shots fired inside Parliament. Security officials and police locked down Ottawa for hours as the rest of us waited to hear if there was going to be more… more gunmen, more bullets, more violence, more chaos.

In the days following, we learned just how dangerous this situation was. We learned that shots were fired just outside of the rooms where many of the members of our federal government were meeting. We learned that the gunman had passed by dozens of bystanders and had easily gained access to heart of Canadian democracy and government.

And since then, all Canadians have been shaken to some degree. And we have already seen the beginnings of over-reaction to this incident. We have heard our political leaders declare that our enemies will be punished and that our resolve to defend our freedoms will not be shaken. We have seen increased security measures across the country. We have even seen vandalism of a mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta.

As we are left to sort out what to make of these events, it is perhaps appropriate that today we gather on Reformation Sunday. Reformation Sunday is the day we set aside each year as Lutherans to remembers our 500 year history, and where we came from. We remember the catholic monk Martin Luther, whom we are named after, standing up against the injustices of the pope and the church – the selling of salvation, the abuses by church leaders, the exploration of the faithful. We remember that our faith and our beliefs are important. Important enough to die for, important enough to defend.

But on Reformation Sunday we also remember the division that change caused. We remember that people did die because of Martin Luther’s actions. We remember the between 125,000 to 250,000 people that died in the peasants war that resulted. We remember that after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door the church in Wittenberg, Christianity was split from 2 denominations (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) into as many as 25,000 today. And these divisions have been caused violence, chaos, oppression, abuse, suffering and death for 500 years.

Reformation Sunday is day of two realities. Of promise, hope and freedom, contrasted by division, conflict and oppression.

Today, you might notice the red parents that adorn the chancel area. Red is one of the 5 liturgical colours, but it is only used a handful of Sundays each year. Red is the colour we use to symbolize the Holy Spirit. The changing, transforming, reforming work of the holy spirit among us. Red is used on Pentecost when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples, and today Red is for Reformation. However, as Canadians, we might take some liturgical and theological license and think that Red reminds us of our national colour and of the the reality of tragedy, fear and death in our midst. And lastly, Red is used to remember martyrs in the church.

And while the gunman may or may not have considered himself a martyr, we have discovered that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo is in fact the martyr this week, the one who died for principles and for a cause.

Even still, as we are left to make sense of tragedy, Canadians have discovered signs of courage and honour this week. Even as the events of Wednesday unfolded, we saw our news broadcasters deliver calm, respectful, accurate reports of the events, rather than sensationalism. And then the courage of Sergeant at Arms Kevin Vickers was revealed, recounting his dramatic actions that ended the danger and prevented more violence. Then there are the residents of Cold Lake who showed up to clean, repair and show support for the mosque that was vandalized only hours earlier. Then there was the political cartoon from Halifax that captured the emotions of a nation, as it depicted one of the bronze world war one statues on top the of the tomb of the unknown soldier stepping down to Nathan Cirilo below, where only the recognizable feet and argyle socks of his uniform could be seen. It was as if those soldiers from a hundred years ago was saying, “You belong here with us.”

And overwhelmingly, the rhetoric since Wednesday has been for Canadians to remember who we are. To remind us not to lose ourselves to grief and fear, to remember that we are a nation of peace and openness, that our values are about tolerance and freedom.

It was been a week of mixed emotions, of conflicting experiences, of hard-to-make- sense of events. And fittingly, Reformation Sunday is about that too. About the conflicting experiences of division, conflict and war that accompanied the Reformation, as well as the striving for justice, the proclamation of grace and mercy, the hope we have in God’s promises.

God’s promises like we hear Jesus utter today, promises like,

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

And if there is anything to remember today it is that.

Even as Canada struggles with tragedy and celebrates the heroism born out of it. Even as Reformation Sunday demands that we recall the both the gospel proclamation of Martin Luther and the reformers, the bold declaration of grace through faith alone, that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and that this belief is important enough to stand up for contrasted with the division, conflict, violence and suffering caused by the reformation. Even as these realities both this week and 500 years old sit with us, ultimately today is not about those things. Today is about what each Sunday is about for Christians.

Today is firstly about Christ. Today is about God and God’s mighty deeds among God’s people. Today is a reminder we simply cannot save ourselves on our own.

Just as in today’s Gospel readings the Jews said that as descendants of Abraham they were slaves to no one (even though they had been slaves to the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and now Romans). Just as Martin Luther declared that he and we we were not slaves to law and freed by God’s grace (even though he was threatened by the Pope and others). Just as Canadians declare that we will not loose ourselves to fear, to revenge, and hate.

We are still slaves to all of those things. We are slaves to enemiy nations. We are slaves to the law. We are slaves to fear, fear of the other, fear for our safety, fear of losing power.

No matter what our leaders declare, no matter the bravery we display, the sacrifices we make, the peace we try to uphold. We simply cannot save ourselves. We simply cannot free ourselves.

We are slaves to sin, slaves to suffering, slaves to death, and there is nothing we can do about it.

And that is why today is ultimately about Christ.

Today is about the promise that God gives to slaves. To those enslaved by sin, those enslaved by suffering, to those enslaved by death. Today, is about the promise that God gives to us. The promise that despite our condition, despite our slavery, that God is showing us mercy, God is giving us grace, God is making us free. Free in the son.

And this promise of freedom comes to us first in baptism. In baptism where we drown and die to sin, and where we rise to new life in Christ.

So perhaps it is fitting today, that we are going to extra lengths to celebrate those promises of baptism, because confirmation is really about baptism, about these young people in our midst recognizing their baptism, recognizing the promises made to them in water and word, made by God.

And just perhaps it is a powerful act of defiance against violence, against oppression, against fear for us to bless and support our confirmands. Perhaps it is beautiful act of hope that not only do we welcome again these young people into the Body of Christ, but we pass on this church, this faith, these promises to them. Even while we are slaves to sin, to suffering and most of all to death, we pass on our hope for the future to these young confirmands. A future promised by God in the midst of slavery. A future given by grace and mercy, even though we are dead. A future found with New Life in Christ.

Amen.

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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