Category Archives: Sermon

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.


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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.

Advent is surely coming, says the Lord

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Read the whole passage)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord.

The first words of the season of Advent begin with Jeremiah, speaking words from the mouth of God to the people of Israel facing destruction by Babylon. An oracle that begins us immediately with the promise of God to a people who feels as though they are surrounded by oppression, suffering and darkness.

We have flipped the calendar today, and are about to begin a new season of the church year. Advent might be the only time the church is ahead of the rest of the world… and even then, we don’t really do this time of year the way most do. We begin by talking about the end, we begin by pausing and stopping and waiting for what comes next. In Advent, as in the Church, beginnings and endings often go hand-in-hand.

Advent is a peculiar season. The church decorates with blue or purples, we generally hold off on singing Christmas Carols (although it is sometimes hard to resist), we patiently and almost quietly count down the days until Advent ends on Dec 24th… all while wondering about what all these stories of John the Baptist and a pregnant virgin actually mean for us.

But on the first Sunday of Advent, we don’t quite get into those stories just yet. We begin instead with the end. On this first Sunday of the church year we begin with visions and promises of the end, the great reconciling of all creation that God promises to God’s people.

For the people of Jeremiahs’ day, their world was surrounded by war and destruction, the Babylonians were threatening to conquer much of the Middle East. And Jeremiah prophesied the coming destruction, the people of Israel awaiting what was to come next for them as warring nations around them sought control of the region.

And for the people of Thessaloniki, St. Paul writes to them hoping they are well in the midst of trials and tribulations because the Romans around this small fledgling Christian community are blaming them for upsetting the social order.

Two communities who are wondering what comes next for them, what will happen to them in the midst of tension, chaos and uncertainty in the world.

And then we hear from Jesus as he preaches to his disciples about the end. Visions and signs of the coming Son of Man. Words from Jesus spoken to his disciples in the middle of Jerusalem during a time of great tension and uncertainty – during the days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

The tension and the uncertainty sounds oh so familiar to us doesn’t it?

Whether it is closing GM factories, new trade agreements that don’t end suffocating steel tariffs, or climate change warnings that again weigh us down with a problem seemingly too big to handle.

Or perhaps it is things closer to home… the death of those who seemed too young die, families struggling with job loss or illness or conflict.

(Or perhaps it is the thing that we are contending with today. What comes next for Good Shepherd and Interlake Regional Shared Ministry at the end of this chapter of ministry together as pastor and congregation? )

We know what it means to live under a cloud of uncertainty and to wonder what comes next for us… even if most of the time we would rather not think about it. And yet, as the rest of world tries to ignore all the tensions and uncertainties with Black Friday shopping lists, baking and decorating and all the other things that come with the holiday season… here we are as the church, starting a new church year and forcing ourselves to pause and sit with this hard question of what comes next for us.

And here is the thing about Advent, here is the thing about Jesus and all his talk of signs and visions of the end… there is no answer for what comes for us. That is not the answer we get to today, nor really any day in Advent.

Instead, Advent arrives with an answer to a different question. And it answers it with the very first words of the season.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord.

Advent’s answer for us is not to tell us what comes next, but who.

Messiah.

Messiah is coming.

The righteous branch of Jesse to save all of Judah.

The one sent by our God and Father, the Lord Jesus

The Son of Man coming in a could.

The Messiah.

And no, the promise of the Messiah’s coming did not stop the Babylonians coming to destroy the Jerusalem and exiling its most important citizens.

And no, the promise of Messiah’s coming did not stop the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire.

And no, the promise of Messiah did not prevent the ugly ending of Holy Week with a public execution on a cross…

But God’s promise of the Messiah was that none of these thing would not be end. Not the end of people of Israel and nor the people of Thessaloniki.

And the cross… well the cross was no ending at all, but rather the beginning. The beginning of God’s new reality for creation, the beginning of God’s new promise of Resurrection and New Life come to fruition for us all.

And then after the cross, that Son of Man coming in the clouds also walked out of the tomb. But that story is not for Advent to tell.

Instead Advent points us again to the promise of Messiah coming also for us. This Messiah whose coming means that all the things of our world which bring tension and uncertainty, conflict and suffering, sin and death… they will not be the end of us. Rather the Messiah’s coming means that we are not alone, not forgotten, not abandoned to the present nor to the future. Messiah’s promised coming means that our world is already transformed now, because a world with the Messiah on the way is a world designed for salvation, rather than a world destined for destruction. And that changes everything.

And as the Messiah is coming, the Messiah also walks along side us. No matter the outcomes of all those things that cause us tension and uncertainty, no matter the outcomes of things that feel too big to control and too much to bare. No matter the uncertainty of trade deals and closing car part factories, no matter the chaos of that we may encounter in our families and community… Advent points us to the Messiah who shows us that God’s new world is right around the corner, coming into view, breaking through into our world right before our eyes.

Breaking through to us in the things that have always been before us, that have always been the signs of God’s love and mercy for us here in this place.

And so even as pastors come and go, even as the world continues to be a place full of tension and uncertainty, Messiah is coming to us bringing God’s new world.

Coming to us in word, water, bread and wine.

Coming to us in the gathering of this community, a sign of the Body of Christ.

Coming to us with the promises of God, made and fulfilled.

Messiah is coming and Messiah is here. This is the story of Advent, the story that begins today, even the in the midst of all of uncertainty and endings about what comes next.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord.

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.

The Widow’s Mite: Resigned to Death

Mark 12:38-44

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

We are coming near to the end. The end of the church year in just a few weeks, the end of the year of Mark. Mark who has been squeezing hard to make us squirm, trying to get us, along with the disciples, to let go of our baggage so that we can just maybe glimpse the Kingdom of God that Jesus is bringing near to us. The last two weeks we got a bit of a reprieve from Mark, as we observed Reformation Sunday and All Saints. Yet, even today, as our nation take times to remember the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, Mark still presses to look forward to the coming Kingdom of God.

In fact, Mark has been making us ready for months. It began last June, and throughout the summer and fall, Mark has been challenging the ways we understand the world by telling us the stories of the disciples’ failures. Peter is called Satan, James and John conspire to sit at the right and left of Jesus, the whole group argues over who is the greatest.

And now in this moment in the days and hours before Jesus is betrayed, put on trial and crucified, he is in the temple teaching. And then Jesus watches as a widow comes and puts her final two coins into the treasury. This is no moment of great faithfulness, rather a moment of tragedy Jesus tells his disciples. While widows are not obligated to give to the temple, but rather receive alms from the temple, this woman puts her last two coins, two nearly worthless pennies into the treasury. Not an act of sacrifice, but of resignation. She is preparing herself for the end, for someone who cannot afford food or shelter is certainly destined soon to die.

It is a story connected deeply to the story of the Widow of Zerephath and Elijah. A story that could have very well been picked out of our nightly news.

Elijah has just been told by God to flee his homeland, and God provides for a starving Elijah with dry creek bed and a raven who brings him food. Finally God sends Elijah to a foreign land, to a widow who will feed him.

Now imagine the widow, already a woman struggling to make ends meet and to feed her family. And here comes a foreigner, a refugee from a war torn country asking for help. Certainly we have heard that story in the news, we have even lived here in Selkirk with the refugees families that we have been a part of sponsoring.

Yet, the widow of Zerephath, a woman who is not a Hebrew, who worships a different God and is of a different people than Elijah, responds curiously to his request. She says that she only has enough grain and oil for one more meal for herself and her son. One last meal before they will go hungry and die. Elijah has barely survived escaping his homeland, only to survive with the minimum provision. And God sends him to a woman in the same predicament.

People who are not just facing scarcity, who have not just experienced decline and loss, who are not longing for what they once had… but people are resigned to the end, who can see death on horizon. There is no perspective change or reimagining of ways to use the resources they have, no pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, no visioning program or stewardship drive that will help. No amount of resumes sent to prospective employers or unpaid internships will turn this around.

For the widow and her son, and for Elijah this is the end. The greatest fear of scarcity has become reality – scarcity has led to death.

And is not that precisely the fear we carry with us, the mindset that pervades our world. Things are tight, resources are scarce, there is not enough to go around. It is the loudest message being told in our world these days. It is the message of advertising, of politicians, struggling institutions, and even often churches. And underneath this warning that there is not enough is the fear that running out will mean death. That caravans will cross borders and take what is ours. That people with different skin, who worship God differently, who speak a differently language will steal our way of life. That technology is taking our jobs, employers are taking our time, sports and Sunday Shopping and a host of other activities are stealing our numbers in the pews. That we are taking the life the planet to drive more cars and make more plastic things. Everything is being taken from us… that is the message of the world. And if we are not careful everything will be taken from us until there is nothing left to give… until we are dead.

Then Elijah responds to the widow. “Do not be afraid.”

Elijah speaks with words usually reserved for divine messengers. Words from Angels, and Arch-Angels, Cherubim and Seraphim.

“Do not be afraid. Go and do as you have said.”

And she does it.

This woman who has nothing, decides to give a refugee her last morsel of food, surely not because of her faith, but because all is lost for anyways, so why not feed someone who has a chance to go on living.

And all of a sudden there is enough. Enough for her, for her son and for this strange Hebrew man who will become the greatest prophet of Israel.

And the widow in the temple does the same, puts her last two morsels in to the treasury in order to maybe feed someone who has a chance to go on living.

And all of sudden there is a cross followed by an empty tomb – and life goes on. Death is no longer the end, but the one who raised Lazarus, lives as well.

“Do not be afraid. Because even where there is never enough in this world, even when all roads lead to death… in Jesus Christ is there more, there is enough, there is life.”

Of course this is what God has been promising to us all along. That when all roads lead to death there is more.

When the world tells us to fear others, people with the wrong language and religion and skin colour who might come and take our way of life, Jesus says to us come and hear my promise of forgiveness, come and be reconciled, come and receive mercy.

When jobs and economies and trade deals makes us wonder how we are going to pay our bills, fill our pension plans, and care for our families Jesus says, come and be washed, come and be named, come and be welcomed into my body.

When the threats of violence and war, catastrophe and danger consume our minds and hearts, and makes us wonder about the future of this planet for our children and grandchildren, Jesus says come and eat, bread and wine, body and blood that never runs out, food that will fill your empty hearts and longing souls.

When we look to the past and long for what once was, when we feel shame as though we have failed those who have gone before us, when there seems to be no future but death for churches and communities of faith Jesus says, you are my body and my body has an abundance that you can never imagine. An abundance of life that overcomes sin and death.

These two widows and Elijah and Mark are all preparing us for this reality about to be glimpsed. The reality that scarcity and death cannot imagine… the reality of God’s Kingdom coming into the world. The reality that in the very moment when we have nothing left but to simply die, God will show up and say,

“Do not be afraid”

Reformation 501: Don’t forget about Jeremiah

John 8:31-36

31Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”

34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

A Reading from Jeremiah, the 31st chapter (31-34)

31The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Today is Reformation 501… not as dramatic as Reformation 500 last year. We haven’t be preparing for this day like we did for Reformation last year. In fact, it has been a pretty quiet year for Reformation after we spent much of 2017 talking about it.

And in some ways, I think that Martin Luther would have mostly hated all the hoopla last year if he was alive to see it. A quiet Reformation might have been more his style, not because he was a quiet and subdued person, but because he wouldn’t want something about him or about our history as Lutherans to get in the way of preaching the gospel.

And in many ways, I think Luther would have been much more excited to celebrate with us here in the Interlake, the thing we are celebrating next week on All Saints. Congregations and people coming together in order ensure that the ministry of gospel goes on in our shared ministry congregations and communities would have been the kind of thing that Luther would have probably been in favour of.

Luther always wanted to defer to the gospel, to turn us back to the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection that saves us from sin and death.

And on this 501st anniversary of the Reformation do we ever need good news. North America is reeling once again from stories of terrorism and violence. Bombs in the mail being sent to the leaders of the Democratic Party and then another mass shooting… and another in a place of worship – this time in a synagogue in Pittsburg with 11 people dead and more wounded. Like the Reformation 501 years, this day does not come without violence.

And so in the midst of darkness, in order to do our best to follow Luther’s desire for gospel clarity, we hear again the same foundational texts of the Reformation. Romans 3, the part of St. Paul’s writings that sparked Luther’s imagination towards God’s radical gift of grace. And John’s declaration that the Son sets us free, the promise of freedom in the gospel. And of course, Psalm 46, the basis for the most famous of Luther’s hymns – A Mighty Fortress.

But what about Jeremiah, the somewhat familiar, but often overlooked reading of the bunch? If is perhaps appropriate to focus on these words from the Old Testament, words read in synagogues all over world that speak about the history of the people of Israel…

Jeremiah’s prophetic words written for the people of Israel during the violent times of Babylonian exile. Words about the covenant… the covenant that goes all the way back to the beginning. To Abraham and Sarah, to the promise of land, descendants and a relationship with God. And while usually a covenant is an agreement that places conditions on both parities, all the people of Israel had to do was not refuse. All the promises were coming from God, none from Abraham and Sarah and their descendants.

And yet the people consistently turned away. It’s not surprising that did turn away, it is hard to believe in God in the midst of violence and oppression.

Yet, most of what comes before this passage in Jeremiah is a lot of God’s ranting and raving about the failings of the people. And eventually God decides that a new course is needed for God’s people. And so God’s makes a promise. A promise that rang true in the Reformation and a promise that rings true for us today.

So no, Jeremiah is the least famous of the Reformation readings, but it is none the less foundational. There is no radical gift of grace in Romans, no freedom in the Son of God in John, no A Mighty Fortress without Jeremiah.

The problem and struggle of the people of Israel and in Martin Luther’s day is the same as it ever was. A problem that stemmed back to the garden of Eden, and problem that we too bear.

As much as God tries and tries with us to draw us back to God, we continue to turn away. For the people of Israel, God promise of land, descendants and relationship first given to Abraham was always too unbelievable and also never enough. Whether it was Abraham’s own fear that God’s promises wouldn’t come true, or the people of Israel longing for Egypt and slavery as they wandered in desert, or the Israelites losing faith during the Babylonian exile.

During the Reformation it was a church that wanted to control God’s promises, to make mercy a commodity rather than a promised gift.

And today? We too struggle with covenant. It is too hard to trust, even in the midst of chaos and change, seeming decline and dying, that God’s promise are indeed for us too. The promised land seems to unreal, descendants to follow us in faith and carry the torch feels laughable. A God who loves sinners like us? Preposterous. A God who is relevant in a world that has mostly forgotten or doesn’t care anymore? Unimaginable.

It’s no wonder that God might be frustrated with us. We just don’t want to get it.

And so God does a different thing.

God starts all over again.

God brings us to the foundation.

God decides that a new covenant is needed. A simpler covenant. A simple relationship.

When in scripture, a prophet – such as Jeremiah – utters the words “Thus says the Lord” biblical scholars call it an oracle. A message of the divine, a direct speech from God. And so it behooves us to listen, to open our ears and hear what God is about say:

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And with that, a new covenant comes into being. One that even the fickle Israelites cannot break. Or the people of 16th century Europe, or 21st century Pittsburg, or in Manitoba on Reformation Sunday in 2018.

A covenant made manifest in incarnation. In the God who becomes flesh, the God in Christ who comes to bring the Kingdom near to us. The God whom we try to put to death, and the God who rises again on the third day.

This new covenant, this new promise is now unbreakable. It is the promise of mercy, the promise of radical grace and forgiveness, the promise of that sin, suffering and death will no longer control us.

Because God is our God… we cannot be God in God’s place.

And we are God’s people, we have no other identity, nothing else lays claim to who we are, not the world, not ourselves, not guns or violence, not sin… not even death.

We are God’s people, we belong to the one who has chosen mercy and love for us.

And God reminds us of this truth each and every day, week after week, season after season.

God reminds us that we are God’s in the mercy and forgiveness that we hear proclaimed.

We are God’s in the Word announced in this assembly and in places of worship all over the world.

We are God’s in the Baptism that washes and renews us for life as God’s children.

We are God’s in the bread and wine, given so that we become the Body of Christ for the world.

Thus says the Lord, I will be your God, and you will be my people.

This is the foundation of the truth proclaimed anew in the Reformation, just as it is became the new covenant with the people of the Israel.

And this is the precisely what God intends for us to hear on the 501st anniversary of the Reformation and on the day after yet another mass shooting, that we 21st Century Jews and Christians, Lutherans (and Anglicans) still belong to the God of Abraham and Sarah and Martin Luther.

That even when we try to turn away, that God’s promise is unbreakable.

Thus says the Lord, I will be your God, and you will be my people.