It is not the things that are #blessed anyways

GOSPEL: Luke 6:17-26

17[Jesus] came down with [the twelve] and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people…
20Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Today, our journey into this long season of Epiphany comes to an unusual place… the 6th Sunday after the Day of Epiphany. Most years, we are already heading into Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday and Lent by this point, Epiphany is being put into the rear view mirror of the journey into the Lenten wilderness. But because of when the first full moon, happens after the spring equinox (yes, that is how the date of Easter is calculated), we are six weeks into this season with still one more Sunday to go.

And so on this unusual Sunday, we hear a familiar story out of place. The Sermon on the Plain from Luke, also known as the Beatitudes. We often hear the Beatitudes on All Saints Sunday or in the summer… at times when they speak to who we are. But this time after Epiphany is about revealing Christ and who Jesus is, as we have heard in the stories of Jesus’ baptism, the wedding of Cana, Jesus preaching in the synagogue, Jesus almost getting hurled off a cliff after preaching in the synagogue, and Jesus almost sinking Peter’s boat with a net full of fish in the middle of the lake last week. And so with different ears to hear Jesus’ familiar sermon on the plain, they reveal to something unexpected about who and where Jesus the Messiah is in the world.

“Blessed are you who are poor” Jesus begins.

And we immediately begin to conjure up ideas of what it means to be blessed. To have, to obtain, to be given things of value and worth. We believe we are blessed with health, wealth, and happiness. “In the world of social media, one of the ways to communicate is through the use of hashtags, also known as the pound symbol, or the number sign. It’s a way of categorizing posts, so one can look up what other people are saying about a particular topic. One might look up #wpgjets or #mbroads or any number of other topics. As you might imagine, #blessed is pretty popular. On instagram, as of the time of this writing, there were 106 million posts featuring #blessed. It was [just] Valentine’s Day, so most of them were love related – feeling blessed for romantic love, family, friends, chocolate! Or to be the blessing to others by providing something as a sign of one’s love: flowers, cards, food… chocolate! But there were literally a million other things people felt #blessed about. And that’s not even counting all the other social media venues. To be #blessed in almost all of these situations is to have [or to own, or to possess] something, or someone.”

And yet, even as the people of Israel may have treated blessings in this way in daily life, the bible and ritual practice Ancient Israel did not. The thing or person most frequently blessed in the prayers of the Israelites was not themselves, but God. “Blessed are you O, Lord our God, King of the Universe” was a common way to begin a prayer.

And in Christian tradition it is the same, in fact the most familiar prayer of our worship begins this way, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed (or Blessed) is your name.”

To bless something is to name it holy. To declare that God is present in something or someone. To say a blessing is simply to say, “God is here.”

And so to hear the beatitudes in this way, changes them.

God is with you who are poor…

God is with you are hungry…

God is with you are weeping…

Yet this understanding of blessing does not change the upside down sense of the beatitudes. To think of being poor, or hungry or weeping as being blessed is strange… but maybe it is even harder to imagine just how it is that God is with those who are suffering.

And isn’t that the problem, no matter how we hear the beatitudes or who they are about. The way in which they turn the world upside down is just hard to grasp.

Every other message that we hear in this world tells the opposite story. Those 106 million instagram posts are probably not showing pictures of poor, hungry and grieving people. And who among us really believes that it would woeful to be rich, to be full – even after Christmas dinner, or to be laughing.

We just cannot escape thinking that blessings are things we can have, posses and own. Things that will fix our problems, make our lives easier, bring us happiness. Things that we have and that others don’t. And to be poor, hungry and weeping in our view is to not have the things.

So what is Jesus getting at? What is “Blessed are you – God is with you – who are poor”, really about?

Well, the clue is in who Jesus is talking to today.

In the other version of the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount version from Matthew, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom.”

But here on the plain in Luke, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor.”

Blessed are you.

You.

Jesus is speaking directly to his audience. And he is not philosophizing about some abstract poor. But speaking to us.

Blessed are you. God is with you. I am with you.

You are the poor, you are hungry, you are weeping, you are the hated.

And You… you are also the rich, the full, the laughing, the well-liked.

It is a much richer and broader understanding of these blessing and woes than we might first think.

You might NOT be poor in terms of your bank account, but we are all poor in some way. Maybe poor in relationships, in energy, in community, in time, in health. And we are also all rich… maybe rich in relationships, in energy, in community, in time, in health. And maybe we are both at the same time.

These beatitudes seem to go in a circle. They don’t provides categories or PREscriptions, but rather DEscriptions. They describe the complexity of life, the messiness of it all. Because we are never just one thing or another, we are all these things.

And in the midst of all these things. Poverty and riches, hunger and satisfaction, weeping and laughing, hatred and acclaim… Jesus is there. God is with us.

It is not the things that are blessed anyways.

It is you.

You are blessed. Blessed are you, Jesus says.

Standing there on the plain, looking out and the crowds and his disciples, looking out at the masses, full of complicated and messy people, looking out at a group of people not any different than us… And Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are you.”

Blessed are you, when it is God who is most often blessed.

Blessed are you in the messy, complicated parts of life.

Blessed are you in your poverty and riches, hunger and fullness, weeping and laughing. Because in the midst of all that, you are not alone. God is with you, wherever you are, whatever is happening.

Here in this sixth week after Epiphany, these Beatitudes from Luke speak to us in a new way. They bring us before the Messiah, the Christ, standing on the plain, standing right before us, speaking directly to us. And this Messiah, this Christ tells us something completely different than we hear anywhere else… this Messiah reminds us that our neither our poverty nor our riches are signs of God’s absence or presence. In fact, these things get in our way. When we think God has abandoned us in our want, or that we do not need God in our abundance. Jesus declares that it not these things that tell us where God is among us and what God is doing. Rather, Jesus stands before us and tells us, reveals to us just where God is among us.

And of all the radical things that the Beatitudes seem to proclaim about God’s vision of the world… blessings for things that we don’t see as blessed, woes for things that we usually consider blessings… the most radical thing of all is that none of those things are the most important. The radical thing is that God has come into the world in the flesh of the Messiah, the Christ. That the one whom the wisemen sought, the one for whom the a voice from heaven thundered, the one who turned water in wine, the whom Isaiah was speaking of, the one who filled the empty fishing nets… that this one is here, right here with us, calling us blessed.

Jesus says, blessed are you.

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What does Jesus know about fishing?

GOSPEL: Luke 5:1-11

4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. (Read the whole passage)

Our journey from Epiphany to Transfiguration continues today. We began with wisemen searching for the Christ-child, we then heard God’s voice thundering from heaven, saw Jesus turn water into wine, Jesus preach in his hometown synagogue and then almost get thrown off a cliff by the people of his hometown synagogue. And now Jesus continues about the business of his ministry. And with crowds following him, clamouring to hear him speak, he gets in to Simon Peter’s fishing boat and meets the most famous of his soon to be disciples.

As we hear this story, the drama of this scene might be lost on us prairie dwellers, unless we are regularly in the habit of going up to Gimli to go fishing. To our land lubber ears, Jesus seems to go for a gentle boat ride. We are used to tractors and pick up trucks, to eating cows and pigs. And so when we hear that Jesus gets into Simon’s, and then Jesus provides overflowing nets, its seems like a nice story, a quaint story about Jesus making life a little easier for Simon and his companions. But dig a little deeper, and we begin to see that this is not just about Jesus providing fish. Today, Jesus is almost as offensive as he was a week ago when he pushed the buttons of the people of the Nazareth Synagogue, and today, Jesus isn’t the only one in danger of losing his life.

As Jesus begins to get more famous, people begin to follow him around. The crowds press in on him to hear what he is saying. And this time they press him right to the edge of the Lake, and when Jesus can walk no further, he hops into a boat. Into Simon’s boat specifically, and from there continues to teach. Simon has caught nothing and is going home for the day. Yet when Jesus hops in his boat, he obligingly takes him out a few feet. Simon knows his place, and allows the important teacher a makeshift pulpit from which to preach.

Yet, when the sermon ends, Jesus doesn’t ask to go back to shore, instead he tells Simon to go out into the middle of lake. The preacher in the boat tells Simon the experienced fisherman to do exactly what fisherman don’t do. They do not go out on the lake in the middle of the day. They fish at night, near the shore, by lantern light. This is how they have fished for generations. Simon is not impressed with this wandering preacher sitting in his boat. In fact he begins to refuse, “Look teacher, we have been fishing all night, our nets need repair, maybe you should stick to speeches and let us do the fishing” Simon has just met Jesus, but it doesn’t take him long to use that impulsive mouth that he will become known for. But then, Simon changes his mind part way through his refusal and says, “Well I guess it won’t hurt, so if you say so Jesus”.

There is something very familiar about this moment between Simon Peter and Jesus. We have all been there when someone insists on an idea that we know won’t work. And we have all, likely, ignored our gut instincts and gone along with a bad idea regardless.

And yet, there is an even deeper familiarity that we know as well. In our dark and difficult moments, in our times of frustration and exhaustion, we too often wonder if God actually knows what is going on. Like Simon the trusty fisherman, we know the ease of sticking to routines and traditions, of sticking to what we know to be tried and true.

In fact, like Simon, we even know how to stick to what we know despite our empty nets. Safety and predictability even if we are starving. As we float near the shore in our fishing boats, we too often find out nets empty, we get stuck in the ruts of the shallows. We stay with the familiar and what we know, even when it leaves us hungry. Yet, God is calling us away from the safety of the shore, out to the deep water, out the unknown.

And so, imagine Simon’s surprise as he lets down his nets into the deep water and then begins to haul it back in. The weight of the net pulling back more than Simon ever expected, maybe more than he had ever experienced. And Simon tries to the get the net — and all the fish — into the boat, there is so much that he must call to his friends. But even with James and John there is so many fish that both boats begin to sink. If there was excitement at catching a lot of fish, it would have disappeared when the boats began to sink in the middle of lake. The wandering preacher might have guessed where the fish were, but it wasn’t going to do Simon any good if he drowned first.

And there out in the deep water, out in the dangerous part of the lake, out with Jesus who has commandeered our boat and is telling us to try new things… Jesus calls us to something totally unexpected.

Jesus calls us to drown in the deep unknown.

And today, that call seems as crazy to us as it did to Simon, who knew better than to go far from the shore. And yet, God is doing something totally unexpected. Something that does not make sense to us. God’s calling to drown is call to die to self. God calls us to be drowned in the waters of Baptism… But that drowning of our sinful, scared, inward looking, routine clinging self makes way for the new creation that God raises up and out of the waters. God also calls us out of our ruts, out of our routines, out of the water, out of death and into life.

To a people stuck in the ruts, in the routine of what is safe and known, Christ’s call to risk everything in the deep water seems like too much to ask. But there in the deep water, Christ is giving us life. Life in the form of fish for hungry, starving fisherman with nothing, and today for us, New Life in the Body of Christ.

We simply cannot hear the story of Jesus’ call to Simon out in the deep waters and not remember the words spoken over us as we were held above the waters of the font,

“By the baptism of his own death and resurrection, [God’s] beloved Son has set us free from the bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life”.

Out of death, God brings life. Out of drowning in the deep waters of baptism, God forces the breath of life back into our lungs and joins us into a community of newly alive people. Its no wonder that we are call our church sanctuaries Naves from the Latin for ship, for they are indeed the upside down boats that we have been dumped from into the waters of baptism.

In our upside down boat, where we are baptized and where we welcome the newly baptized, God makes the dangerous and unknown deep water the sign of God’s love given to each one of us. And this how our God operates, by using mangers filled with animal food, empty wine jugs, empty nets, even a cross, God turns these things into beds for babies, wine for celebration, abundant catches of fish and life as the response to death.

Today as God calls Simon to let down his nets in the deep waters, even as we wonder if Jesus knows what he is talking about Jesus is pulling us out of the water into new and abundant new life.

Simon Peter is surprised today when Jesus hops into his boat and tells him to go out into the deep. And as we go out into the deep waters too, we go knowing that God is in this upside down boat with us.

Resisting the Messenger

Luke 4:21-30

21Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth… 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.(Read the whole passage)

We are about half way through this mini-season of green ordinary time after Epiphany. We have heard the story of the wisemen following the star to Bethlehem, the story of God’s voice thundering from heaven over Jesus as he was baptized, and then watched as Jesus revived the wedding at Cana by turning water into wine.

Last week we moved on from the fantastical to the more familiar, to Jesus reading from the scriptures in the synagogue… readings the lessons in church. And yet, as we discover today in part 2 of this story, the familiar action is also the most scandalous. It’s scandalous for the people of Nazareth, but it is the familiarity of this scene… of being in a faith community together, of going to church just as many of us have for years, decades and generations, that also makes Jesus’ actions scandalous for us.

We begin by hearing again the brief sermon that Jesus preaches after reading the scroll. “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing”

What is fulfilled? Good news for the poor? The freedom for the oppressed and release for the captives? Sight for the blind? The year of the Lord’s favour when all debts are cancelled?

Not exactly. Although it is easy to get focused on what those pieces of good news might look like for us. But rather, the fulfillment that Jesus is talking about is rooted how Isaiah begins the passage. “The Spirit of Lord has anointed me.”

Sounds innocuous enough in English, but heard in Greek or in Hebrew, the meaning of what Jesus is getting at might become clearer. In Greek the word for anoint is Christos. In Hebrew the word is Messiah. Jesus is standing in his hometown synagogue and claiming the title of Messiah, the promised one of God, sent to save and redeem Israel.

And so naturally, the people of Nazareth respond with beaming smiles and nods and nudges to their neighbour and winks knowing that their hometown son has made it. “Isn’t he cute and wonderful,” they say to each other. “What a nice speaking voice and good posture,” they comment. “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy?” they marvel aloud.

But then things seem to go sideways. Maybe Jesus doesn’t like to be thought of as the cute hometown son so he pushes back against the people of Nazareth. He pokes at their comfort and pride. “You just came to see the show,” he says, “Not to hear the message.” And then he invokes images from familiar stories… the gentile widow of Zerephath who demonstrated an openness Elijah when he had to flee his home country… and Namann the Syrian Solider who showed greater faith than the people of Israel that surrounded him.

And with those jabs from Jesus, the beaming pride of the people of Nazareth turns to rage. Who is he to tell them what is what, he is a lowly carpenter’s son… just another boy from town… In their rage, they drive Jesus to the edge of a cliff, ready of cast him out into oblivion.

Now, while the shift from a happy and welcoming crowd to a raging one seems sudden… there has been something off about the folks in Nazareth from the beginning. Both their pride in their hometown kid and their rage at Jesus come from the same place. Both responses to Jesus and his message are resisting what Jesus is actually saying. Both responses focus on the messenger and resist considering what the content of Jesus’ message might mean for them.

This is, of course, the spot where we uncomfortably identify with the people of Nazareth. Whether we like it or not, it is a very human reaction to resist hearing the hard but needed messages from those that care about us. Whether it is at home, at work, in our neighbourhoods or in church, we know what it is like to balk at the message and focus on the messenger. We know what is like to resist when someone tells us that we need to get things together, to be open to new ideas, to try new ways of being, to find healthier ways to live in community. And like the people of Nazareth we often respond in the same way.

“I don’t need to exercise more!”

“Those people won’t fit in here!”

“We tried that already!”

“What do you know, you are too young, too old, too new, too stuck in the past!”

“It’s too risky!”

“What would people think?”

These are all too often our responses to those around us, calling us to account. All too often our response to the spirit prompting us to new possibilities. All too often our response to the call to be transformed for the better.

And who can blame us?… we are human after all. It is simply human to resist. Just as Adam and Eve resisted the creator by eating of the fruit in the middle of the garden.

And so we too end up often, standing on the edge of cliff, either real or metaphorical, ready to toss the messengers of divine good news into oblivion, because we aren’t ready to hear the message. Because what if what Jesus says is true, and that he is the Messiah. What if God is calling us to a new thing, to new ways of being, to welcome new people and new ideas into our community? What if the Kingdom come near ask that we re-orient ourselves and the way we see the world?

Casting out the messenger is always the safer option.

Yet despite our resistance, God does not abandon us. Jesus does not run, or hide or escape.

Luke does not offer a trivial ending to the story, the way that Jesus deals with the angry mob is significant. Jesus passes through the midst of the people. Jesus stays with the raging, resisting crowd. And Jesus continues about his business. He continues on to cast out demons, to heal and cure many, and most importantly continues announcing the coming Kingdom of God.

And yes, this story of a mob praising the one known as the Messiah in one moment and ready to kill him in the next is familiar. It will not be long before Jesus is driven up another hill, and an angry mob will call for his death again… and that time there be no passing through. Because Jesus’ business will be staying with the rage of the crowd, standing in the midst of murderous example of sinful and selfish humanity. Jesus will be nailed to a cross and cast into oblivion.

But just like in Nazareth, Jesus will still go about his way.

And his way will be three days later to walk out of the empty tomb.

To rise again from the grave.

To meet Mary in the garden.

To appear to the disciples in the locked room.

To walk with others to Emmaus.

Jesus way is to show us, to reveal to a fallen and dying humanity, that God is coming to us with new life.

Despite our resistance, despite our focus on the messenger, despite our murderous rage.

Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ is coming to us with new life.

Coming to the people of Nazareth and coming here to us today.

And in our midst, Jesus will be about the business of Messiah.

Jesus is preaching good news to poor sinners here, opening the scriptures and speaking to us in familiar ways.

Jesus is announcing release to those held captive by sin and death, freedom found in forgiveness for us.

Jesus is giving us sight, allowing us to see that we have been named and claimed in the waters of baptism.

Jesus is proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour, the great abundant feast of bread and wine where we are all given a place at the table and fed for the work of the Kingdom.

And Jesus is doing all of this in the most familiar of places, right here among us as a community of faith. Right here in the midst of our flawed and human tendency to resist.

And Jesus is reminding us again, that God’s promise of salvation is fulfilled today.

Holy Disruptions – A Sermon for an Installation

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. (Read the whole passage)

 *This sermon was written by The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker on the occasion of The Rev. Erik Parker’s Installation to a serve a new congregation.*

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Today is a day of celebration for Sherwood Park Lutheran Church, for Pastor Erik, and for the wider church as we mark the beginning of a new ministry. Today, as Pastor Erik is installed, the warranty comes off. He’s yours. You’re his. And this ministry that you have been called to officially begins. And so we gather with excitement for this new beginning, as Pastor Erik joins the ministry of Sherwood Park which is richly and deeply rooted. And with this new beginning is the anticipation for how God will work through you, and use your gifts together to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in this time and place.

As Sherwood Park started the new calendar year with a new pastor, and Pastor Erik with a new call, the church begins the year with the festival of Epiphany, when the magi visit Jesus, bringing gifts, but also signalling the start of something new. In Jesus, God reveals not only who God is, but how God will be in relationship to all humankind. It’s kind of a big deal. So these weeks that make up the season after the Epiphany continue to share stories of the ways in which Jesus… God is revealed to us. Stories of the magi following the star to find the newborn king, of Jesus being named and claimed God’s Beloved Child through baptism on the banks of the Jordan River, of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, and today returning to his hometown to publicly name and claim his identity through the words of the prophet Isaiah. 

These ancient stories offer us, just like their original hearers, a vision of hopeful anticipation for who Jesus, God, is, and what the world will look like under God’s rule. So too, as a new ministry begins there is also hopeful anticipation for this new thing… this new person you have called to be your pastor, and for Pastor Erik, hopeful anticipation for this new community of Sherwood Park he has been called to serve, and the ways God will be revealed in and through you, the ways God will shape and form you for ministry together. For our family, Pastor Erik, myself, Oscar, and Maeve, there is excited anticipation for this new beginning, for new relationships, to deepen connections with some of you who we already know, and to join you all in living out God’s mission for the world.

Today we hear the first part of Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Word about him is spreading. He’s trending… he’s gone viral… people are talking about what he’s doing and saying, and they are praising him – they’re liking what they see and hear – What a great text for an installation… Then Jesus returns home to Nazareth, and as he has done so many times before, goes to worship in the synagogue. But this time is different. This time, he stands up to read, he proclaims the words of Isaiah, and after says to the congregation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus is revealing himself to this congregation, to his people. He is telling them who is is and what he’s come to do: 

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

  because he has anointed me

   to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

  and recovery of sight to the blind,

   to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This is good news, especially if you are poor, if you are captive, blind, or oppressed. But… it’s not as good for the non-poor. Because what Jesus is announcing is the disruption of everything the people have known. A reversal of roles. The poor are released from their debt, the blind are given sight, the oppressed are now free. Which then also means the wealthy will likely need to share some of that wealth, and those with sight will see things in a new way – in ways that those of us with sight have overlooked, or not even noticed. Freedom for all means a redistribution of our roles… our power… our status. Well, when you put it that way Jesus, it doesn’t sound all that great for those of us who will have to change… to share… to examine the way we do things, and the ways in which we live together in this new reality.

This text, which begins with the people praising Jesus, concludes with the hometown crowd “filled with rage… drive Jesus out of town to the edge of a cliff” –  maybe a good thing this part of the story wasn’t included today… not the best ending… 

This isn’t to suggest Pastor Erik is Jesus  – believe me, he is many things, but he’s not Jesus. And not even Jesus could keep people pleased for long. 

But isn’t that just it? Aren’t we all for the new things God… Jesus… is up to when we are the beneficiaries? When the new thing, the change, the disruption is initiated by us?  When we are the change agents, when God’s plans also coincide with our plans things work well. It’s easy. But if we have learned anything as people of faith, it’s that rarely do God’s plans align perfectly with ours. 

Because God, Jesus, is disruptive! 

The Holy Spirit stirs us from our comfortable places and reveals God through new ideas, places, and people that on our own we likely would never have discovered. But being stirred up, is disruptive. And disruption often causes discomfort. 

Jesus’ declaration in the synagogue of who he is isn’t as flashy as the magi traveling from far off lands, or a booming voice coming down from heaven, or the miracle of turning water into wine. But make no mistake, Jesus’ announcement to the congregation at Nazareth that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him, that he is the anointed is the greatest disruption yet. New life for all. Salvation for all. Freedom and forgiveness for all. This new thing that Jesus is called to do isn’t dependent on us, but what Jesus is doing in and through us.

God has called Pastor Erik to this congregation. And God has called you to Pastor Erik. Because Pastor Erik has gifts to share with you, and you have gifts to share with him. Together, you will use your gifts and skills to build up the ministry of this congregation and the wider church. To hear God’s Word. To preach and teach the good news. To administer and receive the sacraments. To serve together in the day to day ministry of the congregation. 

And maybe (hopefully) it hasn’t happened yet that disruption and discomfort has stirred in this place. But it will. Jesus… God is doing a new thing in and through you and so disruption and discomfort is unavoidable.

The good news, is you’re not alone in your discomfort. When Paul writes to the community in Corinth, he uses the metaphor of the body to describe the interconnectedness of the church, and those of us who are a part of it. Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”. That’s right, we’re in this together, even when it’s uncomfortable. But what this suggests more deeply, is that we’re in this together. Our joys. Our sorrows. Our strengths. Our weaknesses. They are all ours together. It is not a situation of one member, or one part of the body or congregation being better, stronger, more faithful, or knowledgeable than another. All of our struggles and all of our successes are together. Paul continues, “if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.”

We need one another. We cannot do this ministry God calls us to do on our own. The Body of Christ is at its strongest when it is working together. When individuals’ gifts are recognized and lifted up, used to the glory of God for the whole church – which extends beyond Sherwood Park, even beyond the MNO Synod or ELCIC, that extends to all the baptized, all over the world. 

Through our baptism, we are connected to one another in and through Jesus Christ. Which also means Jesus, God, is right with us, at the very heart of all that we do, in the good times, the bad times, the disruptive and the in-between times. God is disrupting us in order that a new thing can begin. God names and claims Jesus as the one who will bring new life. Forgiveness. Salvation. Freedom from sin and death for all. 

And so we as family, friends, as congregation, and as the wider church gather today to mark the beginning os this new thing. That this ministry is connected to something bigger than Pastor Erik, bigger than any one ministry of Sherwood Park or the congregation itself, but to the much larger Body of Christ to which we are all called to and connected to, and sent out into the world to name and proclaim God’s love to the world. AMEN. 

Resurrection at the Wedding of Cana

GOSPEL: John 2:1-11

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine…” (Read the whole passage)

Water into Wine. 

It is more than just the high point of the story today. The water follows us from last week. We just came from the baptism of Jesus last Sunday. A story that came after the Epiphany story, the one about the wisemen bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ-child. Feels like ages ago doesn’t it?

By now we can see the Epiphany theme beginning to emerge. The star, the sign that the Magi followed revealed to them the divine king of Israel, the Messiah born to save. And as Jesus went down into the waters, the heavens broke open and the sign of the spirit descending upon Jesus and the thundering voice from heaven revealed again the Messiah, the Beloved Son of God. 

And today, the water into wine again reveals the Messiah, the Christ to the folks at the wedding of Cana in Galilee. 

But is this story *just* about how God likes a good party? A quaint almost movie-script like story (think My Big Fat Hebrew Wedding) about a wedding gone wrong, a bickering family and a happy ending.

Of course, we know that there is always more to the story… and knowing where we are in the bigger over-arching story that begins in Advent and ends on Christ the King Sunday, and brings us through the birth, baptism, ministry, transfiguration, temptation, teaching, preaching, arrest, trial, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus… knowing where we are in that story gives us all kinds of clues about what is happing, and today, it gives us some clues about what is happening at that wedding in Cana of Galilee. 

Think back to the last wedding that you attending. Two sets of families and friends gathering together in fancy clothes and elegant decor to bear witness to the public and formal joining together of a couple in relationship. And the ceremony or liturgy followed by a party… a party full of its own expectation and traditions. In fact, the party is often the most important part of the day. The entrance of the couple, the bad jokes told by the M.C., the speeches and dances. And of course the food and drink.  

Weddings are events full of tradition and expectation, full of things that must be done just so and the right way… Because tied up in those traditions and expectations are the hopes and dreams of family and community. Somewhere in the hidden reaches our minds and hearts is the sense that the wedding is an omen for the future marriage. 

The wedding at Cana of Galilee was no different of course. Sure the details of the traditions vary from what we know, but the expectations are the same. The wedding represented the hopes and dreams of the community. A wedding was a sign of God’s blessing for a marriage, for the joining to two families. Weddings were expected to be lavish 8 day affairs of celebration, of food and drink in abundance. The Bride groom was expected to spare no expense. The Father of the bride should be functionally broke by the end. 

And so on only the 3rd day of wedding the wine runs out… this is so much more than an embarrassing wedding planning error. It is sign of what is to come. It is the failure or inability of the families of the Bride and Groom to properly celebrate, the is the failure of the entire community. It is the blessings and abundance of God being withheld. A failed wedding would surely mean a disappointing, failing and infertile marriage. 

But is it all that surprising? Cana was a nothing town in the middle of a backwater province of the Roman Empire, far from being anything important. The failure of this wedding was just another omen for the community as whole. The world and God had forgotten this place… and because of it they would continue to not be enough, to shrivel up and die, to be forgotten and ignored. To be of no importance in the grand scheme of things. 

To our ears, the wedding of Cana probably sounds familiar… it probably feels familiar. We see the omens and signs of the wine running out all around us. Economic worries, insecure jobs and incomes, climate change and environmental worries, political chaos to our south and across the Atlantic. More locally, government cuts, private sector restructuring, failing infrastructure. Stressed and burned-out families, struggling businesses, fraying neighbourhoods, endless personal to-do lists that never seem to check off much in the bottom half. 

And of course here in church’s and communities of faith. Budget stresses, shifting attendance, aging demographics, difficulty finding volunteers and leaders take on the work of being church together. 

Our wine feels like it is running out too… we are rationing, we are diluting it, we are hoping to limp along a little further. But the signs and omens are there, the party is going to come to an end, and God’s blessing for us feels like it is being withheld. Day 1 of the party, remember that day? Back when everything was great, everyone was happy, there was more than enough for everyone. Too bad we can’t go back to that day. 

And of course our wine running out here is more than just bad planning. It feels like we have failed. Failed our communities and families, failed to keep up our end of bargain, failed to maintain the abundance of our parents and grandparents, we have lost what we remember from our youth… and what we have now feels as though it is dying. At least, that is what we think the wine running out means, that is what imagine. 

But Mary sees something different. 

Mary the mother of Jesus looks around the wedding of Cana and sees the same omens and signs that we see. The wine is running out far too early, and this is not good. 

“They have no wine,” she says to her son. 

Jesus isn’t into listening to his mother in this moment… I am sure we get the feeling. 

But Mary isn’t talking to her son. 

Mary has been here before. She has been surrounded by the signs and omens of dying in a world that barely even notices you are there. And Mary has lived through it. She has found herself pregnant out of wedlock, found no room in the inn, escaped to Egypt from murderous soldiers. She knows what the signs and omens of dying are and what they mean. 

But she has also been visited by an Angel, given birth in a stable, been found by Magi bearing gifts and heard the voice of God thunder over the waters, thunder over her son. 

And in the signs and omen of dying at the Wedding of Cana, Mary also sees the promise of God in flesh. The Messiah come to save. 

Mary is not some interfering parent in this moment. She is a prophet, a prophet who knows that the promises of God are true. That the only hope in the world, the only hope in all creation for the people of Cana is that same promise of God that has been spoken by angels, and magi and shepherds and thunder from heaven. 

So ignoring her son’s reticence and speaking from her experience, she tells the servants, 

“Do whatever he tells you”

And there in the midst of the signs and omens of death in Cana, the blessing of God does not leave the party, but arrives. 

From the waters that birthed creation, from the baptismal waters of the New Creation in Christ,  Jesus brings the wedding of Cana back to life. Jesus’s first miracle in the Gospel of John is nothing less than resurrection itself. 

Because wherever death exists in our world, wherever there is dying, no matter how big or small, Christ is there bringing new life.

And all of a sudden the hope and promise of a Wedding Cana, the signs and omens tell a different story. They speak of God’s rich and abundance blessing given to a couple, to two families, to a community in the middle of forgotten nowhere… God’s promise of new life is even for Cana. 

God’s promise of new life is even for us. 

Even in the midst of all the omens and signs of dying around us, God’s promises have come for us too. God’s promise is attending our party, bringing abundant, new life. 

And just like Mary, God has been showing up and giving us the signs and omens all along. 

As we drown in waters of sin and death, God raises us to new life in Christ.  

As we come needing forgiveness and mercy, the spirit proclaims us forgiven and beloved. 

As the world declares us dead and forgotten, Jesus comes to us with Good News of the Kingdom. 

As life leaves us so often hungry and alone, the Father gathers us next to brothers and sisters at the table of the Lord. 

As we so often only see the signs and omens of death, the Messiah brings abundant new life in the most surprising of places…

in water turned into wine.


There is no more wheat and chaff

GOSPEL: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

“John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming…

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22and the Holy Spirit descended upon him…” (Read the Whole passage)

It was just last week that we heard the story of the Magi or Wise Men following the star to find the Christ child in Bethlehem. They looked for him in the royal palace of King Herod but instead found him in the home of Mary and Jospeh… and that experience set them on a new path home, forever changed by encountering the Christ.

Today, we fast forward 30 some years and it is clear that the Christmas / Epiphany narrative is over. We had our chance to take a breath over the holidays, to stop and ponder the wonder of the incarnation, and now we are sent along to continue the story of Jesus. For many of us, the return to work and school and “regular life” mirrors this movement in our biblical texts. Both the bible and our world have this habit of moving us along to the next thing whether we are ready for it or not. The story of Jesus keeps going and our world keeps turning, no matter how much we prefer the slower paced days of Christmas.

Today, the church celebrates the Baptism of Our Lord. It the moment of Jesus’ life story that begins his ministry, that sets him onto a 3 year journey of ministry in the backwaters of Judea which eventually culminate on a cross in Jerusalem. But before we get to voices from heaven and the spirit descending like a dove, we have John the Baptist.

John the Baptist makes a cameo today, reminding us of his central role in Advent. Out of four Sundays in Advent, two are devoted to John every year. To his preaching and ministry on the banks of the river Jordan, proclaiming the coming Messiah and baptizing those who came to him.

And so even as we are shoved 30 years forward in the story of Jesus from last week to this week, Luke’s Gospel reaches back and picks up the thread from before Christmas… reminding of us just who the gathered crowds are, standing on the banks of Jordan.

They are God’s people waiting in darkness, anticipating the coming of Messiah, hoping for hope, searching for salvation of some kind, somewhere. They have come out into the wilderness looking for John the Baptist, hoping that he will give them something to hold onto.

And John does give them something, some good news to hold on to. Yet, John’s message is a little off. It doesn’t quite sound like good news. God’s promised Messiah is coming, says John, he is coming to baptize with fire, to separate the wheat from the chaff. To burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.

That doesn’t sound like good news, but more like a warning. The Messiah is coming to separate the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the right from the wrong, the faithful from the faithless, those on the inside from those on the outside…

But isn’t that the problem in the first place? A temple system in Jerusalem that arbitrarily chooses some to be righteous while most are deemed to have fallen short. The problem already is a world where salvation seems to be inaccessible for most. John is only kind of providing good news by telling of yet another who is going to separate the good from the bad.

You see, even John the Baptist, sent by God to proclaim the coming of Messiah, cannot escape the way the world, the way sin and death wants to define things, to define us. John the Baptist preaches both the coming of God’s promised saviour, but still through the flawed lenses and paradigms of our world. A world that thinks the solution to our problems is determining who is good and who is bad, who is in and who is out.

Of course, this continues to be our problem today… Like John and the crowds, we too cannot escape the inclination to see the world, and to see God, in those terms. In the terms of who is good and who is bad, who is right and who is wrong, who is saved and who is unsaved. Human beings cannot help but seeing the world this way, whether it is in our personal lives and families, in the world of politics between nations, in the world of business and economies, even in the world of sports. We are so used to seeing the world in terms of who belongs to our team and who doesn’t (says the Oilers fan in Winnipeg).

And as post-modern 21st Century Christians, we haven’t changed much from those crowds coming to the banks of the Jordan looking for salvation. Sure we are the inheritors of Church’s proclamation of faith, sure God reminds us week after week, time after time of the Gospel given for us, of the good news of God’s love and forgiveness for sinners and resurrection given to those suffering under death. Sure God reminds us that none of us is worthy of being on the inside or righteous or saved on own, but that Christ makes us worthy.

Sure we should know better… yet, Christians are often some of the worst offenders at seeing the world in terms of wheat and chaff, the world of John the Baptist’s preaching. Christians have the bad habit of wanting to condemn those on the outside, of believing that God’s mission is just for us, rather than following God’s call to take the good news with us out into the world.

But what else should we expect… we cannot help ourselves, we cannot help but be wheat and chaff people by nature… our inability to see that God’s love for us is given freely and abundantly, is precisely the reason Christ comes in flesh in the first place.

And our inability overcome our nature is also why the story doesn’t end with the John the Baptist.

It is why the story begins with him.

As the crowds are standing there on the banks of the river listening to John, they go down and wade into the muddy waters, one by one, where John baptizes them.

And out of this ordinary action of being made clean in the water, something extraordinary is about to happen. One particular, seemingly unremarkable, man is dunked in the waters… And something happens. As he comes up and out of the water, the heavens break open. The veil between heaven and earth is lifted, and the distance between God and creation is closed. And the spirit of God comes down and rests on this man.

And then, just as it rang out over the waters of creation in the beginning, God’s voice rings out again. And this time, the people of God are there to hear.

“This is my Son, the beloved. With him I am well pleased.”

Now here is something, someone new.

The Messiah that John has been foretelling and heralding is not just on the way, but is now here. Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the anointed one, has been revealed to God’s people.

Here is the hope, here is the salvation, here is the one that they all have been waiting for.

Just as God began the creation of all things by thundering God’s voice over the waters, God the Father begins the salvation, the new creation of all things by thundering again over the water.

And all of sudden, the wheat and chaff, righteous and unrighteous are not the point anymore.

The good news come in flesh is now the point.

The good news being close enough to touch and feel and see and hear is now what matters.

The good news who can look us in eye, who can pick us up and carry us, who can reach out to touch and feel and see and hear us is the new reality.

The crowds have been given not just the hope they were looking for, but more than they could ever imagine being given.

And it is the same for us. Even as pervasive is the old way of seeing the world, even as we try to keep up the pretense of determining who is in and who is out… God is breaking through to us.

As we gather around the water found here, God breaks open the heavens for us too. God’s voice is heard in our midst and God’s salvation comes for us. As the water is poured over our heads the first time, and each time as a new member is joined to the Body, God is declaring that we too are God’s beloved. That we too are God’s beloved children.

And those other labels, good and bad, right and wrong, in and out, wheat and chaff… those labels, those judgments don’t matter anymore.

There is only God’s judgment of us, and there is only one thing that God judges us.

Beloved.

By God’s voice speaking forgiveness in this place, by the water that washes us anew in this assembly, by the bread and wine that joins us to this Body… God is declaring us Beloved… over and over and over again.

From Magi and stars, to Water and the Voice of God… today is quite the trip… but it is all to remind us again, that God the good news has come and that God has declared us God’s own children. God’s own beloved.


Image: Wikimedia commons https://goo.gl/images/VeZWdo

Epiphany Disruptions and New Paths

GOSPEL: Matthew 2:1-12

Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

It is not often that the Day of Epiphany falls on a Sunday. Epiphany is a pretty important feast day on the church calendar after all. Yet, it often gets the short end of the stick as we usually only observe it when it lands on a Sunday.

Epiphany tells a story what we usually associate with Christmas proper – the story of the Magi or Wise men coming to visit the Christ child. We really ought to save the part of the Christmas pageant where the children dressed in bath robes and paper crowns give gifts to the baby in the manger for today, rather than for Christmas.

Of course, Epiphany and Christmas are closely related, as the season of Christmas only ended yesterday with 12th night. Yet, Epiphany tells a different part of the story, Epiphany moves us along in a different way than Christmas does. Epiphany is kind of like the sequel to Christmas, the next chapter of the story.

As Matthew tells us the Epiphany story, he begins by locating us in time and place. Wise men or magi arrive in Bethlehem in the time of King Herod. King Herod is mentioned to remind us that this is a time of oppression and suffering for the people of Israel. Bethlehem is also mentioned to remind us of the hometown of another King of Israel, King David. King David and King Herod who could not be more of a contrast. King Herod was a puppet tyrant of Roman occupiers and King David presided over Israel’s glory days.

And in this moment, the Magi, foreign and mysterious kings or seers, arrive at Herod’s doorstep bringing disruption. They are asking for directions to the newly born King of the Jews that they have seen foretold in prophesy… except Herod’s wife did not just give birth to a son. The Magi send Herod’s world is sent into chaos.

Herod responds by conspiring to find this newborn king and get rid of him – by destroying the threat to his power and security. And he tries to use the Magi to do it.

And so not finding the newborn king they were expecting in the royal palace, the Magi continue to follow the star that has led them this far. They are led to a completely unexpected and surprising place, the house of a peasant family in a mill town – to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. There they give gifts suitable for a royal baby and worship this prophesied king. Yet before returning to Herod, they are warned in a dream to chose another path back to their own country.

This Epiphany story is one of movement and disruption. The Christ child born into the world doesn’t just stay at the manger, but instead causes disruption. The powers and principalities of the world are disrupted. Herod’s tyrannical rule over Israel is thrown into chaos… the mysterious Magi themselves are set on a new path after meeting the holy family… and even Mary, Joseph and Jesus themselves will soon be escaping to Egypt, fleeing the soldiers of Herod who are sent to kill all the baby boys of Bethlehem.

This story of Epiphany disruption is one that we know well. As each new church year begins in Advent, the church is aimed at Christmas. Advent and the stories heard throughout that season bring us to Christmas and the manger moment. With the prophets of old, with John the Baptist, Elizabeth and Zachariah, with shepherds and angels, with Mary and Joseph, we are gathered up and set down at the manger moment – the moment of God coming into the world.

And oh how nice would it be to just stay in that Christmas bubble. If we could only live in that candle light moment of Christmas Eve, singing the sweet carols of Silent Nights and Mangers.

But that is not where Epiphany leaves us. That is not where this Christ-child born into our world leaves us. Instead we are disrupted. The Christmas bubble is disrupted by a world that doesn’t stop very long for Christmas. Just when we thought we could catch our breath a little longer, school and work begin again, programs and activities resume and responsibilities at home, at work and at church all come crashing back into our laps. The world turns us back to the turmoil and conflict and drama that fills our facebook feeds and the evening news.

And of course here, at Sherwood Park, the bubble of the excitement of calling a new pastor is also disrupted today. Disrupted by the arrival and new beginning of that pastor. There is suddenly someone new in the pulpit and in the office. Everything feels different and changed. And like those Magi who were looking for one thing, for Royal babies in royal palaces, this new ministry between us might be revealed in unexpected places. And like those Magi, the experience of the Christ-child will set us on a new and unexpected path.

But that doesn’t make the disruption easy.

Epiphany, and the new path we are set on, is not easy.

Unlike Christmas, a point in the story where we land, where we arrive and pause for a moment, Epiphany is a hinge, a part of the story that moves us from one place to the next.

Epiphany swings us from the anticipation of Messiah in Advent and the coming of Christ at Christmas, to Jesus’ work and ministry in the world to come. Epiphany sets us along with Jesus on a path towardsLent and Good Friday and the cross… towards crucifixion and death. Towards resurrection and new life.

This is the reality underneath stories of jealous kings and mysterious magi… that God has sent to us the Christ… the Christ who is about the business of changing us and everything, of putting us on new paths that we didn’t expect, but new paths that we will lead us out of sin and suffering and death. New paths that lead to new life.

But still, the new paths of Epiphany bring the powers and principalities into chaos. The soldiers will still be sent for the children of Bethlehem. And we too will resist the Christ’s coming trying to hold onto the things that make us feel comfortable, powerful and secure. The magi still must travel this new road to find what they were looking for and to escape the danger that comes with finding and worshiping the one true God. And finding the things that we are looking for, that we are longing for is not likely to happen. Things going the way we expect is not part of God’s plan for us.

But we know this. As the Church in this time and place, we know that Epiphany disruption is far more our story than the Christmas bubble. We know that the Church that we used to know, the glory days that sit so clearly in our memories and hearts just won’t come back no matter how hard we try to revive them. Instead, Jesus seems to have other plans for us, new paths and new directions that we are not so sure about.

This reality, the reality of what God is doing in the world, the reality of Christ’s coming into creation, incarnate, in flesh is what has been simmering beneath the surface the entire time. From the beginning of Advent, from the beginning of all creation, Christ’s coming into our world has been disrupting us.

The disruption isn’t easy.

But it is what we need.

Because this Messiah, this Christ-child found in Bethlehem at the home of Mary and Jospeh on this Day of Epiphany just after Christmas is the one who comes into our world to save us. To save us from ourselves and to save us from sin and to save us from death.

And the disruption…

The disruption is salvation.

Disruption that we encounter today on Epiphany and every time we gather as the Body of Christ.

Disruption from sin found in the forgiveness that God proclaims here.

Disruption from hopelessness found in God’s word of hope and Good News announced in this place.

Disruption from isolation found in water by which God joins us to the Body of Christ.

Disruption from the hunger that keeps us clinging to the wrong things found in the Bread and Wine, Christ’s Body and Blood that feeds us for new life.

And so on this disruptive 13th day after Christmas, the day of Epiphany that sets us in motion anew, God in Christ reminds us that the disruption, the chaos brought our power and sense of security… that this disruption is God’s new path for us … the new chapter of the story… this is story of God’s work of saving us, disrupting from sin and death…

This is they story of Epiphany, God disrupting us from the bubble of Christmas, in order to move us into New Life in Christ.

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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