All posts by Rev. Erik Parker

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. Blogger | Liturgy Geek | High Church Lutheran | Husband | Dad. ENTJ. Musician, gamer, movie-lover, amateur techie.

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.

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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 Unlikely Coronation

This sermon was co-written with my partner, The Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker (Twitter @ReedmanParker). It is her family with the collection of royals plates and spoons.


John 18:33-37

Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

A couple of weeks ago my mother was visiting from BC. And while she was here she had us watching the documentary series “The Royal House of Windsor” on Netflix. One thing you should know about my, mostly British family, is our fascination with the royals. As far back as I can remember the royals were a thing. A big thing. Growing up, there were books of Prince Charles and Princess Diana that I would thumb through, mostly to look at the magnificent gowns and jewels the princess wore. There were plates and spoons with the faces of her royal majesty the queen among others who adorned my grandparents living room wall. My grandfather even researched how the queen takes her tea so he could perfect the methodology – in my family we truly believed that the queen could, in fact, drop by at anytime and visit. So best be prepared.

Throughout my childhood my understanding of what it meant to be royalty was rooted in these picture perfect images from glossy pages, or screened onto bone china. To be honest, the idea that these were real people, with real problems, didn’t sink in until August 31, 1997, the night Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car accident in France. A week later I watched Prince William and Prince Harry – both the same ages as my younger brother and I – walk behind their mother’s casket. They looked so very human and normal, and powerless, and average.

To be a member of a royal family means to be set apart – there are protocols and procedures, customs and traditions, expectations and entitlements that are reserved for a small group of people. This becomes clearest when watching the archival footage of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. The pomp and circumstance. The regalia. The grandeur. The diamonds! This is how many of us perceive the royals. All glammed up for their royal tours or grand parties and celebrations. Many of the criticisms over the years has been how removed the royals are far removed from day life… from us.

So when we come to this festival day, Christ the King or the Reign of Christ, when we lift Jesus up as our king, as we recall not the kingdoms we create for ourselves, but the kingdom God creates for all of creation, we might anticipate the same kind of pomp and circumstance. The same grandeur. Maybe not the diamonds…

Our Old Testament reading from the book of Daniel as well as our Psalm are coronation readings, they conjure up familiar images of what it means to be royal: “dominion, and glory and kingship” (Daniel 7:14), and “robed in majesty” (Psalm 93:1). And to be honest, it is strange that in this year of Mark, that we would be presented with such images. Mark, who spends the majority of his gospel avoiding talking about Jesus’ kingship. Jesus’ identity is kept secret for the better part of Mark’s gospel. Which is maybe why, on this last day of the church year, of the year of Mark, we don’t hear from Mark’s gospel but instead from John. We find ourselves with Jesus before Pontius Pilate who asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” This is, of course, a loaded question.

Because in the Ancient Near East, the king was the Messiah. They ruled under a theocracy in which the king had the ultimate authority and power, and ruled from the top down. It was the king, and the king alone, who had the power and authority to keep everything and everyone safe and rescue them from harm or danger.

But Jesus doesn’t look or act like a king. Pilate is in the power position, and he knows it.

“My kingdom,” Jesus tells Pilate, “is not from this world”. In other words, what you think and expect of kings and kingdoms is nothing like what I have come to do, or who I have come to be.

Jesus comes into the world and completely redefines what it means to be royalty. And from the very beginning – especially as told through Mark’s gospel that we have heard throughout this last church year – Jesus has been pushing and prodding us to think differently about the kingdom of God. Jesus has been pushing and prodding us to understand God and God’s reign differently than what we think or expect.

There is part of us that like the idea of a royal who is far off, doing royal things with royal people. And it’s easy to depict Jesus as a king – crown him with many crowns, lift high the cross – the hymns we sing, the stained glass windows we commission.

But this is not the Jesus we encounter in the gospels. Certainly not in Mark. Jesus’ king-ship, his reign is one that was played down. Jesus himself who walked alongside the disciples teaching, healing, eating… time and time again we encounter a Jesus who keeps showing up in spite of people not knowing who he is – his own disciples not getting it again, and again, and again. And likely because of this not getting it, Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, is kind of a grump. We’re not any more comfortable with grumpy Jesus than we are with a king who looks and acts nothing like how royalty is expected to look and act. Even when artists depict Jesus on a cross it is often with a regal air, and when its Jesus walking down the road with his disciples, there is the suggestion of a king walking through the royal garden with courtiers. No one is commissioning a stained-glass window of a mug-shot Jesus, or Jesus covered in road grime and old clothes wandering the countryside with a bunch of ne’er-do-wells.

And yet – this is our king. Jesus comes to us not with pomp and circumstance, but in the most unlikely of coronations. Through the humblest of beginnings, in a manger to an unwed mother. The kingdom of God isn’t behind royal gates that remain locked to those outside. The reign of Christ is not filled with protocol and procedure, but rather the dismantling of the very things that keep us from hearing and seeing and experiencing God’s love and mercy in our lives. Jesus spent his life walking with and talking with the opposite types of people that any king would be expected to hang around. Jesus’ rule, Jesus’ reign, is so far from what royalty would look like. Instead, all of the examples we have of Jesus’ reign, of what God’s kingdom looks like, are in the ordinary.

And so today, as Christ the King Sunday with readings of royal coronations follows a year of Mark downplaying the kingly side of Jesus, we are left two sides of Jesus seemingly at odds with one another.

But as these two images blend together, Jesus is showing us a Kingdom of Heaven that is breaking into our everyday, mundane and earthly existence. Jesus is showing us a King of all creation who is walking along side us fashioning, forming and shaping us for the kingdom.

And all of a sudden, Christ the King and the Kingdom begin poking and prodding through the veil… and Jesus shows us that the Kingdom has been all around us the whole time.

The Kingdom of God breaking through in words of mercy and forgiveness

The Kingdom of God being glimpsed in the words of eternal life spoken in our midst.

The Kingdom of God revealed in the peace and reconciliation shared between friends and neighbours.

The Kingdom of God that tears open the the boundary between heaven and earth allowing the body of Christ of all times and places to worship as one.

And all along Jesus has been shaping and transforming us for life in this kingdom, in this kingdom that Jesus has been bringing near to us the entire time.

In our world that still looks for royalty to live up to regal expectations, to hold fast to customs and traditions, protocols and procedures, we celebrate the reign of the One who looks nothing like what the world expects. Who holds fast to the rule of love, who encounters us in bread and wine at the table, in the water and word at the font, in reconciliation with family and friends, freedom through forgiveness of sin to life eternal.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus is never the King that we expect, nor the One that we deserve, but always, always the One that we need.

The Kingdom of God in the Birth-pangs

Mark 13:1-8

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth-pangs.”

It is coming close to the end of the church year. Next week it will be Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday of the church year. And then we will flip the calendar over to Advent, and begin again. Today, we hear from Mark for the final time this year. Mark who has been aggressively pushing the disciples and calling us to let go of all the things that hold us back, our selfish desires, our want of comfort and security, our habit of putting ourselves ahead of others. And Mark has been showing us a Jesus who wants us to see the Kingdom of God, to see the transforming world around us and to witness the work of God in the world.

Of course, it has not been easy and nor have we been all that successful. And Mark seems to get this. From beginning to end, Mark’s gospel recognizes that the disciples never figure it out and neither do we. And yet Jesus sticks with them and sticks with us despite that.

Today, we pick up from last week, from the story of the widow’s mite. After watching the widow give everything she had to the temple, in an act of resignation, Jesus and his disciples leave together. On their way out, the disciples begin remarking on this grandness of the Jerusalem temple. And indeed the temple was a sight to behold. For the people of Israel in that day, the temple was the centre of their world. It was the dwelling place of God, the place from where their history and identity flowed, as well as power and privilege.

Yet, Jesus will have none of it. He grumpily declares that all of it will be thrown down. Which is akin to saying that all of Israel will be thrown down, the power and history and religion of the Israelites will be crushed. Of course, it was only about 40 years later that the Romans did indeed raze the temple to the ground. But for the disciples and the rest of Israel at that moment, it probably seems unimaginable.

Finally, on the Mount of Olives looking down on the temple, after the disciples look around to see that no one is listening and eagerly ask Jesus just when the temple will be destroyed. Presumably the are imagining something even greater coming in its place. If their teacher and master really is the Messiah, he will certainly usher in a new age of prosperity for the people, which includes a new temple. The disciples can only imagine more of what the temple attempts to portray — they can only imagine a greater symbol, a more influential centre of society and culture, an even grander source of meaning and a more potent history for the people of Israel.

The disciples, despite all that they have been through with Jesus are still marvelled at the prospect of power that the temple represents.

As we prepare to turn our calendars over the Advent and begin telling the story of Jesus again new, we do so knowing that we carry the same struggle as those disciples. We don’t really want imagine all the birthpangs or really any part of the pregnancy. We want the Christmas moment, the angels and shepherds, animals and drummer boys. Whether it is in our personal lives or at work, we dream so often of the time when everything comes around for us. Whether it is in our communities or around the world, dreams of peace and harmony abound (as long everyone buys into our vision of peace). Or whether it is the church, the longing we carry for different circumstances, for the easy abundance of our fond memories.

And just how do we know that we feel just as the disciples did? Just listen to regular church goers on Christmas Eve… when the church is often full, full of friends and family we so often hear or say ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be nice if it could always be like this?”

We like the idea of the birth moment, the time when all the work comes together, when all the waiting is over, when the uncomfortable, achy, growing pregnant body is finally done with being pregnant and the new miracle is birthed (of course we know that pregnant bodies don’t just go back to normal but are forever changed by childbirth).

We love the magic of Christmas, the powerful symbol it represents in our minds and hearts – much like the Jerusalem temple for that disciples.

But we do not like what it takes to get there, we do not like the hard work and messiness that is required for something to be refashioned, to be reclaimed, to be renewed, to be reborn.

Or as Jesus calls it, the wars and conflict and earthquakes and famines.

The birthpangs.

The disciples want to know when things will be accomplished, but Jesus is concerned with what it takes to make the journey.

For you see, at this point in the story, Jesus has ridden into Jerusalem hailed by the crowds as conquering king… and will in hours, be arrested, tried, and executed. All by the great powers of the temple of Jerusalem and by the great powers of Rome.

Jesus knows that despite our desire to skip the messy stuff and go straight to magical moment, the Christmas moment, that we tend to spend a lot of our lives in the mess. We spend much of our lives waiting, wishing for things to be different, wading through imperfect and flawed places of the world, through the chaos of just making it from one day to another.

But Jesus also knows that it is in the birthpangs, in the human mess that God is at work. That even as Jesus is about to enter into the darkest valley of human sinfulness, that God is doing that hard work of refashioning, reclaiming, renewing, rebirthing.

Refashioning sin on a cross.

Reclaiming death as New Life.

Renewing the bond between creator and created.

Rebirthing all of us into Kingdom as beloved and forgiven children of God.

These are the birthpangs.

This is work that God is doing in the messy places, that bottom, common, ungrand, powerless, unremarkable places. In and through people like those nobody disciples out in the far and forgotten corners of the world. And also in and through people like us, in the far and forgotten corners of Manitoba and the Interlake.

While we are waiting for Christmas. Hoping that the end of the struggle comes soon, that everyone is resolved and wrapped neatly in bow. And that the Christmas magic will become our new everyday…

God comes to us in the real places, comes to real human life. Real life that happens in the messiness of families and communities and places of work. Real Life that happens in the never ending, monotonous day to day. Real life happens in all those other Sundays when it seems like there are too few voices for the singing and too few hands to greet and share the peace with.

These are our birthpangs, the places where the Kingdom of God is breaking into our world to refashion, reclaim, renew and rebirth us.

It is not about temples being crushed or conquering Messiahs or making church feel like Christmas every Sunday… Jesus is telling us today that he has come for the real thing… the real and messy parts of life. Because that is where we are and we know it.

Jesus comes in the birthpangs because we are constantly being stretched and pushed by life for what comes next. And in the midst of all that, of real life, Jesus comes to us.

Jesus comes to give us a glimpse of the Kingdom being born right here, right now.