Tag Archives: Sermon

A Reformation Sermon for Canada and the Ottawa Shooting

John 8:31–36

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

Sermon

This week our nation has endured great tragedy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is why today is ultimately about Christ.

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

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

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

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

Amen.

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A Sermon for a Confirmation Class that isn’t Coming Back to Church

Matthew 22:15-22

…Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”… (Read the whole passage here).

Sermon

This morning, after hearing 10 faith statements from our confirmands, we hear Jesus and the Pharisees having a discussion. They are debating how to be someone who has faith in God, and someone who lives in a world full of political and economic powers that divide our attention and allegiances. Do we ally ourselves with God, or Caesar, the symbol of world power. It is all part of our journey through the Gospel of Matthew that began last year, but particularly through the summer we have been hearing Jesus’ teaching along side of our human desire for control, power, easy answers, black and white categories and so on.

And it would seem natural at this point to tie confirmation or affirmation baptism that we will celebrate next week with some kind of choice to stand up for faith, for you confirmands to become “adult Christians.” Kind of like the choice between God and Caesar that Jesus is talking about today. And yes, confirmation has that aspect to it. There is something distinctly adult about standing in front of the church and sharing out loud what Jesus means to you. And some think that confirmation is about making the adult choice to stand up for Jesus.

So confirmands, I think it is important to recognize what you have just done. You have been bold and brave to share your faith and to do it in front of the whole church. But not only have you done that, but you have shared your faith statements after more than two years of study and learning, of classes and community, of coming to this strange place with these strange people while most if your peers and friends were sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

Now your bravery this morning is certainly an example to the rest of us, and we are all proud to see you, our young people, standing among us sharing your faith. But some honesty in this moment is called for as well.

This may be difficult to hear, but bear with me. After the last two years of classes and studying and learning about faith, a lot of you, maybe even most of you will not come back to church very often after next Sunday. A few of you might become regular and active church members, but likely not many. And after today, there will be a lot of things, a lot of other options that will pull you, and that pull all of us away from church and away from faith.

But the options and other things to do on Sunday mornings are not the only thing that will pull you away. And again bear with me.

The things that we talked about in confirmation God, faith, church and the bible, are probably not things that your parents talked much about with you. And studies show that if faith is not talked about in the home, the chance of youth staying involved in church is very low. But this is not about blame. Your parents didn’t talk about faith to you, because their parents didn’t talk to them about faith. And your grandparent’s parents didn’t talk to them about faith.

And even though the small catechism that we used in confirmation to help us learn about the ten commandments, lord’s prayer, apostle’s creed, baptism and communion was written by Martin Luther for parents, particularly fathers to use to teach their children about faith… the church for hundreds of years has been making people think that God and the bible can only be talked about and learned about at church. And that is our fault – pastors and church leaders fault – we are to blame for why parents are not teaching the faith to their children.

So confirmands, (and families), you have now heard me say that most of you will probably not be back to church after next Sunday. But I want to be clear that this is not to make you feel bad. In fact, if the reason you and your families come to church is because you feel like you should… then I don’t want you to come. Church is not a should. Faith is not a should. God is not a should. But back to that in a second.

Remember the debate that Jesus has today about the Emperor on the coin, giving to God what is God’s and giving to Caesar what is Caesars. This is not an easy task. If we feel like we should come to church, but we want to sleep in, or do homework, or go shopping, or play sports, or dance, or whatever… we might try to go to church like good little girls and boys should… but that will last only a while until what we want to do seems much more interesting.

Giving to God what is God’s sounds nice, but let me tell you, giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s is a lot more fun.

And here is the thing about church.

If you are looking for great music, the radio will always have something that sounds better. If you are looking for an entertaining sermon, tv and movies will always be more appealing. If you are looking for food that tastes better than bread and wine, any restaurant has better. If you are looking for fun youth events, family programming, or seniors groups, the YMCA, the mall or and most community groups can do more than we can.

The church is just not as cool as the world, as cool as Caesar’s stuff and so the church won’t be entertaining enough to make you come. Guilt won’t be enough to get you out of bed on Sunday mornings. Becoming regular church attenders after next Sunday is something you will have to want to do. And our responsibility is to make this place somewhere that you would want to be.

And so what does the church have offer? What would make you want to come instead of feel like you should?

Remember Jesus talking about Caesar and God. When the Pharisees asked Jesus about paying taxes with Roman coins, he asked for a coin because it has the picture of the Caesar, the emperor on it. And next to emperor’s picture two words were printed – “Caesar God”. The romans thought that their Emperor was God, and so when Jesus said, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s, he wasn’t really talking about this choice between God and the world. Caesar and his image on the coin represented humanity’s desire for control, our desire to be powerful, our desire to define God and Godly power. Jesus is reminding us that this is not true. Jesus is saying that we don’t always get to decide who we are, nor do we get to say who God is.

The world, things like school, sports, shopping, tv, dance. Things like power, money, security, control, black and white answers etc… these things are trying to tell us that we get to decide who we are. That we can be anything we want. A rock star, an NHL hockey player, a marine biologist, a doctor, that we can be rich, young, never sick, famous and powerful.

So what does the church, what does God tell us? Here at church God doesn’t let  us decide who we are, but tells us who we are. God tells is in Baptism that we belong to God. That we are children of God and that is the most important identity we have. In communion, God tells us what we are members of the Body of Christ, of this family of faith that gathers here at Good Shepherd and that gathers as Christians all over the world. God tell us who our family is, God gives us brothers and sisters in faith, who are there for us when we struggle, there for us when we celebrate, there for us in daily life.

In God’s church, we are welcome no matter what. We don’t have to be anyone special, we don’t have to be achieve anything, or commit to anything. In God’s church, we are not told us that we should do anything. In church we hear what God has done for us, we hear how Jesus is working in our lives, and we are promised that when we fail, when we are broken and suffering, and when we die, that God is there putting us back together, giving us new life.

So confirmands, today you have given us your faith statements in front of family, friends and the congregation. You have been brave and bold to speak, and we are proud. And while I reminded you that confirmation is not graduation from church, meaning after next Sunday you are not done church, but invited to engage church more. Don’t hear the message today that you should come to church. Faith, church and God are not things you should do.

Instead, hear today that in this place, with these people, with this God you are welcome no matter what, that you are a part of this family and that you belong here and belong to God. And when all those Caesar things, those world things fail to turn you into the things you want to be, here you will always belong, always be family, always be loved. Here, God will always tell you who you are.

Amen. 


Have thoughts on should go to church vs. want to come to church? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

A Sermon on Ferguson, Robin Williams and the Canaanite Woman

As a blogger, it can be hard to know where to begin with all the things happening in the world. But as a pastor, I can’t help but preach about where God is in the midst of this mess…

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Jesus left Gennesaret and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord… (Read the whole passage here)

Sermon

Have mercy on me Lord. 

These are familiar words. In fact, we just sang them this morning. Given the times and places where we usually say these words, it can feel strange to sing them while we are safe and sound at church. Normally it is in moment of distress, moments of trial and hardship, moments when there is nothing else but to ask for God’s help.

Have mercy on me Lord. 

A news alert flashes across the televisions, computer or smart phone. The top story of the evening news. The front page of the newspaper. They all declare the same thing:

Robin Williams is dead.

Mork is dead, Adrian Cronauer is dead. John Keating is dead. Garp, Peter Pan, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sean Maguire, the Genie from Alladin, Patch Adams and so many more beloved characters from our favourites movies. They are all dead.

And the world mourns, the world cries out for healing, the world begs for more understanding and help for those suffering from depression.

This news is a shock and yet it isn’t. Another star whose personal struggles and demons meant that we all share in the tragic results. We all grieve when a famous star dies.

Have Mercy on me, Lord.

The canaanite woman that approached Jesus must have been desperate. She must have been willing to risk any humiliation for her daughter. She also must have known that God in flesh would hear her plea. The woman who calls on Jesus does so knowing that she is repeating the language of worship, the language that Jesus and all Jews would have used in worship. Words that are spoken to God, this woman speaks to Jesus. A sign that she knows just who this Jesus fellow is.

And yet the disciples try to send her away.

They send her away because she is a gentile, because she is a woman, because she is a beggar. They send her away because she is different. She isn’t one of them, and as open minded to the poor, to the marginalized, to the downtrodden they think they are, this woman is too different and therefore undeserving of their mercy.

Even Jesus doesn’t have time for the woman. She begs him to help her daughter and Jesus says some pretty offensive word to her: It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

This is not the Jesus we know. This is a cruel, uncaring Jesus who doesn’t even see this woman as human, but more like a street dog.

Have mercy on me, Lord. 

In Ferguson, Missouri an 18 year old black teenager was walking down the street, and was stopped by a white police officer. The two got into a scuffle and the police officer shot the teen 8 times, killing him. The boy had his hands in the air, and was saying, “Don’t shoot” as he was killed.

The small suburb of St. Louis is shocked and outraged that a white police officer can kill a black teen without repercussion. Neighbourhood vigils and protests turn into a national movement calling for justice and for acknowledgement of the systemic racism that led to this incident.

Have mercy on me, Lord. 

The canaanite woman who has asked for mercy does not let up. She has a sick daughter, a child suffering from a demon, from an unknown illness. She asking for Jesus’ help not her own behalf, but as a parent. And she is willing to risk rejection, and to keep asking, even if he says no at first.

And Jesus gives a resounding no. He hasn’t come for gentiles, he has only come for the people of Israel. Jesus has come for God’s chosen people… yet this woman, this unclean gentile woman challenges Jesus… challenges Jesus to change his mind.

Have mercy on me, Lord.

Wars continue in Syria, Iraq and Gaza. People are dying in Africa from the deadly Ebola virus. The need for mercy in our dark world feels overwhelming these days as the news is a constant flow violence, sadness and shock.

Have Mercy on me, Lord.

These words are familiar to us. They are words that we pray, words of desperation and words that we practice week after week when we gather for worship. Words that are handed on to us and that we are entrusted to use faithfully.

And so when we don’t have the words and when we don’t know what to say, those familiar words like Have mercy on me Lord, or Peace be with you, or Thanks be to God, they spring to our lips without needing to think of them first. These are the words of the community of faith, they are the words of our forebears in the faith. These are the words that we teach each new generation as they come to worship.

And most importantly, maybe most surprisingly. These are words that change the mind of God.

To imagine words with such power is hard for us. Words that change the mind of God seem like too good to be true. And yet, that is exactly what happens each week, each moment we worship. The words that we hear in this place and the words that we share remind us over and over again, that God’s mind has been changed about us.

We have chosen condemnation, we have chosen death for ourselves. We are sinners who can only choose to die over and over again. Yet with mercy and love, God comes and speaks to us, with forgiveness and grace, God choses life and love for us. As Jesus changes his mind today, he doesn’t just change it about one woman. In Gospel of Matthew, from that moment on, Jesus’ mission was not just for the Jews, but all creation, for Jews and Gentiles alike. We are the ones asking Jesus for mercy and we are the Gentile members of the body of Christ who have received it.

Today, the Good News is that God changes God’s mind to include us. To include Gentiles, to include 21st century Canadians, to include the people of The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd. God in Christ has come into our world, to be born, live and die for us. God in Christ has come to give us so much more than scraps from the table, but to give us a place at the table, to welcome us and feed us with God’s own body and blood. To make us into One Body. To hear our cries for Mercy.

And despite the horrible news that we have encountered this week there has been mercy. Since the death of Robin Williams there has been renewed awareness for those who suffer from mental illness and increased giving towards charity.

Mercy given.

In Ferguson, as tensions grew between police protestors, faith leaders and community leaders joined the call for justice but also the call for peace.

Mercy given.

In Africa there is help being sent, including new medicine with the hopes of helping.

Mercy given.

There are calls for peace and an end of violence in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, but most of all people of faith are standing together in solidarity promising to pray for innocent victims of conflict.

Mercy given.

Mercy isn’t about taking the problems away, but mercy is the promise that God walks with us in the midst of the darkness. God promises to be our light in a dark world, to be our healing balm for our suffering, to be the compassion that we so desperately need.

Have mercy on me Lord. These words will cross our lips over and over again. They will be ingrained into our bodies and into our souls, they are the words that change God’s mind, they are words that change us from dead sinners into members of of the body of Christ – forgiven and alive. Mercy is what we need these days.

We cry out,

Have Mercy on us Lord.

And Mercy is what God gives.

Amen.

Today, God is dead.

We have made it to the cross.
We began our journey on Ash Wednesday.
We have descended into the valley of Lent.
And now we are at the bottom.

We are at the foot of the cross.
High above us hangs the Messiah that we waiting and hoped for in Advent.
High above us is Jesus who called his followers from their fishing boats
and then healed the sick
and cast out demons
and taught in synagogues

High above us hangs the Christ who rode into Jerusalem a King
and the crowds shouted Hosanna, they shouted save now.
and the Christ ate with his disciples and gave them new bread and new wine.

High above us hangs the God nailed to a cross
by the same crowds who called him King,
by the best political and religious authorities of the day
by those whose power was most threatened by a God who had come close.

High above us hangs the symbol of our greatest power.

We have put God to death.

God_is_DeadToday, God is dead.

We have made it to the bottom of the valley of the shadow of death

And along the way we heard the shouts of Hosanna and crucify him come from our lips.
And along the way we felt the what it was like to hold the hammers and the nails in our hands.
And along we way we knew that the only way we could try to be God, to be our own little gods would be to use our most god like power.

Death.

God came to us.
God showed us his face.
God healed our infirmities.
God reconciled our shame
God called us out of our brokenness
God forgave of us our sin.

And all we could do was respond with death.

God_Is_Dead_by_deviantkupoGod is dead.

And creation killed God.
And humanity killed God.
And we killed God.

We are at the foot of the cross.
High above us hangs the greatest symbol of our power.
A dead God.

And little do we know.

God has come to show us, to heal us, to reconcile us, to call us, to forgive us.
God has come to receive our judgement and to take our death.

As the Messiah hangs, as the Christ hangs, as Jesus hangs, as God hangs, God is gathering us all beneath the cross.

Beneath death.

Beneath not just God’s death, but all death.
Humanity’s death
Creation’s death
All of our death.
Because death is our power.

But God has an even greater power.
God is gathering us at the foot of the cross. To show us greater power.
God is going to turn all of our death into something different.
Into something new.

God is dead.
And yet God is not ended.
And yet God is not over.
And yet God is not finished.

God is transforming death.
God is transforming us.
God is transforming everything.

cross-silhouette1God is not ended, death is ended.

God is not over. Death is over.
God is not finished. Death is finished.

We have made it to the cross.
We have come to the bottom of the valley, to the shadow of death
To the shadow of the cross.

And it is the here.

God is making all things new.
God is making us new.
God is making death into life.

High above us hangs Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, Jesus God in flesh.
Jesus who is putting death to death.
Jesus who is God’s great power.
Jesus who is life.

Lazarus in the Valley of Dry Bones

John 11:1-45

(Read the whole lesson here)…Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go… (Read the whole lessons here)

Sermon

ValleyofDryBones-620x3101The prophet Ezekiel said: The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 

We have have made our way through the season of Lent. 5 weeks, 5 encounters between Jesus and another aspect of the human condition. Temptation in the desert, Doubt with Nicodemus, Shame with the woman at the well, Refusal to see with the Blindman. We have journeyed through the Lenten wilderness, one where our flaws and sufferings have been put on display, where Jesus has met us with mercy.

But today, we take a turn towards Holy Week. Jesus still meets us in an aspect of the human condition, in grief. But the story foreshadows what is to come.

The prophet Ezekiel said: The Lord led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

We begin with Jesus staying somewhere other than where he needs to be. His friends are in trouble, Lazarus is dying. They are hoping that he can come to help. But instead, he stays. And then after a few days of waiting, Jesus announces that Lazarus is dead and then decides to go to his friends in Judea. His disciples are puzzled, but his answer to them tells us that something is about to happen. “Let us go, that we may also die with him”.

As Jesus finally makes his way to Bethany, the real drama begins to unfold. News of Lazarus death is spreading, Jesus has arrived in time to grieve and mourn, but too late help. On is way to town, Martha, Lazarus’s sister comes out and meets Jesus on the road. Martha, the busybody, the one who needs to work goes to Jesus let her grief, her frustration out. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But now I know that God will give you whatever you ask him.” Martha’s word are accusatory. They are desperate. She is filled with grief. She utters words that could very well be our words.

“Lord, if you… than this…” We have all been where Martha is. We have all suffered loss, felt grief, felt abandoned or ignored. We have all suffered and wished for God’s intervention. We know what it is like to be Martha. To want the past to be different, to even be desperate enough to hope that it can still be changed.

drybonesThe prophet Ezekiel said: The Lord said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Jesus is gentle enough with Martha to let her make her accusations, to let her share her desperation. Jesus could have done something, maybe he still can.

And then Jesus answers Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”

Can we imagine hearing those words? Can we imagine the God of the universe, come in flesh, speaking to us, “Your loved one will rise again.” Can we imagine standing in front of God almighty as God declares that death is no barrier, that the powers of this world that we think are unassailable are a mere trifle to God.

Martha is too lost in her grief to really take in the moment, she doesn’t really get who is speaking to her and what Jesus is saying. She responds almost automatically,

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha gives a formulaic response, but one also resigned to death. Martha is clinging to the promise as best she can, but she does not see the immediacy of Jesus’ statement. And still Jesus stays with her, “I am the resurrection and the life”

And the Prophet Ezekiel said: Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy toUnknown-1 these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

The God of the universe has just declared that Lazarus will live… But we don’t get the impression that Martha has really absorbed what Jesus is saying to her.

And so Jesus continues down the road, and this time Mary, Martha’s sister comes to meet him. She accosts Jesus with the same statement that her sister gave, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And maybe this time it is Jesus who now understands something. These two women cannot see past their grief. They can only experience the rawness of their brother’s death. They can only painfully long for their brother to be alive, they can only see the empty hole their dead brother has left in their world.

This time, Jesus simply stays with these grieving women. He doesn’t try to remind them of who he is, he doesn’t try to buoy their spirits with what he is about to do. He simply shares in their grief. He weeps with Mary. He is moved by their fragility and their weakness. Jesus knows that is about to call Lazarus out of his grave, but still the deep grief that Mary and Martha carry moves him in spirit.

We have all been here. This is the essence of what it means to be human. To know that everything around us is limited. That we only have so many days on earth, we only have so much we get to do and be and experience. And so we grieve the rest, all the things, all the people that we didn’t get enough of.

Maybe this grief is a lesson. Maybe it isn’t the disciples, or Mary or Martha who need to see God’s glory. Just maybe Lazarus hasn’t died so that we can see, but so that Jesus, so that God, can live grief in person. So God can truly understand what it means to grieve.

And when Jesus finally knows incarnate grief, knows what it is mourn like we do, Jesus makes his way to the tomb. Jesus has learned grief, but Mary, Martha, the disciples, the crowds, us, we are about to see what it is like to be God, what death really means when it stands before the creator of life itself.

Ezekiel said: So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

As Jesus, Mary and Martha, the disciples and the crowds stand before Lazarus’ tomb, he declares,

“Take away the stone”

And Martha protests. Martha the one who has just confessed that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, says “There will be a stench for he has been dead four days”.

Martha, stuck in her grief, is telling Jesus there will be a stench. She is speaking to God, to the One who uttered the word “Let there be…” in creation. The one whom is the Word of God made flesh.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus rarely looses his cool, but at this moment, full of grief too, Jesus snaps are Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed…” Jesus has declared that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and we are about to see what that really means.

The prophet Ezekiel said: Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

468304834_640And the stone is rolled away. And that very first promise that Jesus makes to Martha,

“Your brother with rise again”

That promise comes to fruition. Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

And we too are about to enter into Holy Week. Into a period of remembered and renewed grief. We know what is going to happen, we know that Good Friday is coming. We know that humanity is about nail Jesus, that we are about to nail God to the cross.

But we go with these words ringing in our ears,

“On the third day, he will rise again”.

And the promise rings true for also for us ,

“You will rise again”

Amen.

 

Ash Wednesday – The Bell Tolls for You

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

The flashing red lights of firetrucks and ambulances at an accident scene.

A “Code Blue” announced over the intercom at a Hospital, followed by doctors and nurses rushing down hallways.

A doorbell rung late at night and a door opened to a police officer or pastor bringing bad news of a loved one.

Intrusions all of them. Harsh images that force us to see how fleeting and impermanent we are. They take away the cares and concerns of real life. The price of gas, keeping coffee appointments and promotions at work hardly seem to matter in face of these images.

And it is not out of morbid curiosity that we all slow down to drive by and gawk at that road accident. Or that all conversation stops in a hospital waiting room when all the staff rush away for a Code Blue. Or that we peer out our windows to see why there are those late night and officious looking visitors at the neighbour’s house. We don’t stare because it is fascinating. We stare because it could have been us. Deep within us, we all have the sense that if the wind blew hard enough, we might just drift away like dust in the wind.

ash-wednesdayTonight, on this night of Ashes, we are practicing. We are practicing for the moment when it will be us. “Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust” and sand in the shape of a cross will be laid on our caskets as we wait to be lowered into the grave.

This is a harsh reality that we rehearse tonight. Sin and Death are real. The palms that we waved last year on Palm Sunday have been burned to remind us of this. No matter how much attention we give to all the other goings on in life, no matter how much we care about work, family, sports, entertainment, politics, fashion, money or whatever, we are all subject to the effects of Sin and Death.

And not just sins like lying, stealing, or cheating. We are subject to Sin. To the reality that we are born into brokenness. That we are always on our way to death, from the moment we are born. We are the walking dead.

This is what the Ashes say to us. Just as ancient peoples covered their heads in sack cloths and ashes, as the ashes are placed on our foreheads, they speak of the shame of mortality that we all bear. The shame of being alienated and estranged from each other, and alienated and estranged from God. The shame of having tried to be like God in garden of Eden, and the shame of failing to be like God ever since.

But the shame that the Ashes speak to us is not only our shame. The ashes speak also of God’s shame. The shame that God willingly took on when Christ was born into our dusty flesh. The shame that God willingly endured by living with those who could not understand, those who pridefully mocked, those who maliciously persecuted and those willingly deceived. The shame that God then took to the cross, in humiliation. The shame that God took to the grave in powerlessness.

But out of the shame of the grave, God began the undoing of our own shame. God began the reversing of our mortality. God began the birthing of Life in the face of death. And while the Ashes remind us of sin and death, the cross shape in which they are placed reminds us that Sin and Death have been conquered.

The Ashes will be washed away, but the cross on each of our foreheads remains. Because that cross was placed there in Baptism. It was sealed to our dusty bodies as a permanent sign that out of death comes new life.

The Ashes mark the beginning of our journey into Lent. The beginning of God’s journey down with us into the water’s of baptism. The place where the power of death is washed away. And under the waters, we too die. We die to our shame and to our sin.

And over the next 40 days of Lent, we will be continually washed in baptismal waters, we will be made ready to dine with Jesus at the Last Supper, we will be made ready to lay at the foot cross, we will be made ready to preach the good news of an empty tomb.

But tonight, on day one, as the red lights flash for us. As the Code Blue is announced for us. As the door bell is tolled for us. As the sand is tossed on our caskets, We will confess that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

Amen. 

Share your Ash Wednesday thoughts, or Lenten Disciplines in the comments or on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor Page or on Twitter: @Parker Erik

 

A Story for Christmas – Part 2

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Hall Xmas crop_0_0Marlena thought about how she had wound up here. She, her husband Jim,  and her kids, David and Lizzie, were waking up in a road-side motor inn. They had been snowed in the day before when a storm had hit. They had been driving across the wintery prairies, towards her parent’s house in the next province over. Her parents were getting older and no longer able to make the trip to them for Christmas, so Marlena decided to bring Christmas to her parents. This had caused undue stress. She had been working furiously hard ahead of time. Buying presents, baking goodies, she even had the groceries for Christmas dinner in the middle seat of the van, between her and the kids. Marlena was full of anxiety this Christmas. She wanted everything to be perfect, she wanted everyone to have a wonderful time. So far there had been more grumpy moods and fights than wonderful times.

Last night they had experienced something incredible. The hotel was full of stranded travellers, and Jim and Marlena invited a young couple, Jesse and Miriam, to share their room with them because there were no vacancy. Miriam had been very pregnant and went into labour. She gave birth in the middle of night, to a baby boy, Christopher. The EMTs, led by John Shepherd, had finally made it to the hotel, but baby and mom were fine and recovering well, so they stayed at the hotel instead of braving the snowy roads to the hospital. That had been last night.

By mid-morning, David and Lizzie, Marlena and Jim’s kids, were up and as restless as ever. They were fighting again, Jim was disengaged like he had been all month. The wonder and joy of last night, had faded only to be replaced by the frazzled feeling Marlena had been experiencing all month. She was snapping at her kids ageing they misbehaved, and she had threatened to take away Christmas 3 times this morning, because it was the only thing that got them to behave.

Marlena, Jim, David and Lizzie moped around the hotel all morning, and by lunch they found themselves in the dining rooms, grumpily waiting for the storm to end. As the other hotel guests waited out the storm, they began to congregate in the dinning room too. However, the kitchen staff had long gone home to spend Christmas with their families. There were several tired and hungry travellers munching on chocolate bars and soup crackers from the vending machine. Many kids were running around wild, while parents sat impatiently looking out the window, hoping the storm would let up.

It was when Marlena’s stomach began to growl, that she remembered she had brought groceries for their Christmas trip with her! Before she had really thought it through, she stood up and announced to the whole dinning room,

“I have groceries going to waste in my room. I am going to cook Christmas dinner, you are welcome to eat with us”.

Marlena was shocked with herself. The whole room had gone silent and all she was getting in return was shocked looks from the sullen crowd… after what felt like hours, but was only a few awkward seconds, a voice from the back of the room said, “I will help, I have some food with me too”. And then all of a sudden 8 more people volunteered and off they went to front desk to get permission to use the kitchen. The hotel clerk wasn’t sure about the idea at first, but realizing that he may have a riot of hungry snowed in travellers on his hands, he agreed to allow them use of the kitchen.

The group cooked and baked all afternoon, the hotel’s stranded guests changed from being a group of weary people, to a group with purpose. They were going to make something of this day now, and they were going to do it together.

In a few hours, the dinning room had been transformed into a grand dinning hall. All the tables had been moved into one big table with over 100 chairs. There was homemade wreaths on the walls, and even one of the front lobby shrubs had been made into a Christmas tree, complete with toilet roll angel on top.

The hotel guests were all gathered around the table. David and Lizzie were sitting with Jesse, Miriam and baby Christopher. They were mesmerized by the new born, and they hovered around Miriam wanting to get a closer peak, or to let the newborn baby grab at their fingers.  Jim was floating around the room with a huge grin on his face, he had taken on the role of head waiter and was directing his group of volunteers as to where to place each dish that came out of the kitchen. All around the table, people were laughing, some were singing Christmas carols, others were telling stories of Christmases past. Even the front desk clerk had joined the table and was right in to the celebration.

Finally when the table was covered in food and everyone was ready to eat, Marlena stood up to commence the meal. She thought about praying, but she wasn’t sure if everyone would appreciate that, so instead she made a short speech.

“You never know what to expect from life, all your plans for the holidays can be thrown out the window by a little snow. But at least we won’t starve tonight and at least we won’t be kept from celebrating Christmas. So without further ado, let us..”

“Excuse me” said a voice from somewhere in the crowd. “But where I come from, its customary to read from the Christmas Gospel on Christmas Eve, so if you would permit me”. It was a little old man, and he was wearing a black shirt with a little white square at the front of the collar. Marlena nodded absently and sat down.

It was an old priest who had spoken and he pulled a bible out of his coat pocket and began to read.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

As Marlena listened to the poetic words of the Christmas story as told by John, she looked around the room. As she looked at unfamiliar faces, young and old, singles, couples and families, the familiar words took on new meaning. This Christmas was far from perfect. There was a feast on the table, but it was hardly the traditional Christmas meal. It had almost every kind of food you could imagine from turkey to pizza to curry. Gathered around the table was a group of complete strangers, not the usual family. But there was a Christmas miracle baby, and his parents, there was an inn with no more rooms. There had been guardian angels protecting the travellers, and even an Shepherd come to see the new baby. Marlena could sense that this rag tag group, was together for something bigger than they could imagine. All of them were stuck in a hotel on the side of the road during the holidays. This Christmas was far from perfect, yet it had become something special.

As Marlena saw her kids happy for the first time in weeks, her husband smiling and engaging the world around him, she felt at peace. No… this Christmas was not the perfect one she had imagined and worked so hard for, but neither were they the perfect family, perfect people needed to make Christmas perfect. Christmas was about God becoming flesh and joining with the imperfect. As she scanned the intent faces also listening to the Christmas Gospel, she realized that it was for these imperfect people and it was for imperfect her, that Christ the Lord was born in a manger. And Christ was here in the flesh, in the faces of those sitting around the table with her, family, friends, but mostly strangers, young and old.

The old priest read the last verse of the Gospel reading,

14And the Word became flesh and lived among us”.

When he finished, Marlena, along with many others around the table couldn’t help but say:

Amen.

For Part 1, see here: A Story For Christmas – Part 1