Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sermon for April 26th 2009

Author Sue Monk Kidd notes of the Fair Tale about Rapunzel the following:

The story of Rapunzel, recounted in Grimm's Fairy Tales, reveals a false-self pattern common to many of us at certain times in our life. Rapunzel was the damsel imprisoned by a witch in a tower without a door. The only access to the tower was through a solitary window at the top. When the witch wanted to visit, she stood below and called for Rapunzel to let down her long, golden hair from the window. Then the witch scampered up, using Rapunzel's hair as a ladder.

Year after year Rapunzel sat in the tower, singing sad songs and waiting for someone to come along and rescue her.

As I identified my false selves, I recognized Rapunzel in myself. She was the part of me that wanted daddy, mummy, husband or SOMEBODY else to come and fix it, the part that languished in whatever struggle I found myself, singing sad songs, and looking outside instead of inside for help.

Rapunzel is the helpless damsel waiting for rescue. Locked in a "towering" problem or difficulty, she waits for deliverance rather than taking responsibility for herself. her waiting is negative waiting, not the creative, active waiting that initiates growth.

As I thought of Rapunzel, stuck all those years in a tower without a door, I wondered why Rapunzel couldn't figure out a way to get out. AFTER ALL, THE WITCH WAS INGENIOUS ENOUGH TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET HER IN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

When I re-read the tale, especially the ending, where the witch in a fury picks up a pair of shears and cuts off Rapunzel's hair - I wondered why it had never dawned on Rapunzel to cut off her hair herself and use it as a ladder. THE ANSWER WAS THERE ALL ALONG, ONLY SHE (RAPUNZEL) WAS SO BUSY WAITING FOR RESCUE SHE DIDN'T SEE IT.

It's important to be able to ask for, and accept help, but not Rapunzel's way. She chose to forgo the contemplative experience of taping her soul-strength, (the dark night of the soul) to bury her problem-solving potential and project it onto others. Struggling with the difficulties of life, we may adopt the idea that we're too weak, too dumb, too busy, or too incompetent to take care of ourselves and extricate ourselves from pain and problems. A tape recording plays in our heads: "you can't manage that ... you aren't able to figure that out yourself ... you are too weak to do it on your own ..."

When that happens, Rapunzel makes her grand appearance.

The Rapunzel pattern reminds me of an insight ... received while watching the opening credits of the television programme "Mystery" on PBS. As the credits roll, a cartoon-animated woman whose ankles are tied waves her hands in the air and cries "Ohhh!! Ohhh!!" waiting for someone to come untie her.

I watched that show for a long while before it occurred to me that the woman's hand's weren't tied. She could, if she were so inclined, bend down and untie her own ankles.

We live in a world that wants everything new and improved, easy and fast – the easier the better and if it can be done in six easy fast steps – wonderful! But if it can be done in three even better !!

Such is the fast food society in which we live – everything is about faster, stronger, simpler and so on. Our busiest restaurants are fast food outlets that may even have signs outside that say – “15 minute parking strictly enforced”. Our news comes from stations that pride themselves at being able to reduce EVERYTHING to 30 minute rotation cycles. And our entertainment now comes in half hour or shorter packages, with audio books becoming the choice for millions of ‘readers’ – you can listen to the latest best seller while driving – rather than spending endless hours with a book in your lap, and a cup of tea at your elbow … why waste such time??

Yet, fortunately we also live in a time and a place where people are beginning to appreciate, not the speed and haste at which everything moves, but the leisurely pace that allows us to savour and enjoy things in a more timely fashion.

The whole concept of slow food is proof of the world looking at our fast-food culture and saying – “let’s slow it down and re-connect …” “let spend time over conversation rather than gulping our food and running to the next appointment …” “let savour the flavours and textures and the company … let’s take time to enjoy it …”


That’s the think that in our society we muse that we never have enough of it, and we’re always pushed for it if we find any, and we are definitely bound by it.

And in the Easter Season we are challenged to pause and consider the event that are unfolding in the narrative, and by our story today to consider the sights, the sounds, and the sensations of the Risen Christ.

We are to open our eyes, our hearts and our souls to the events happening in and around Jerusalem, and in this morning’s reading – Jesus has arrived to greet the disciples who are still wallowing in their self-pity and sorrow …

He greets them and by his actions shows them that something new is unfolding right before them – something that they are welcome and indeed invited to be part of. God is crafting something wondrous right before them that arises from the darkness of the tomb and death – and represents new life in abundance …

Rapunzel is being freed from her tower to return to that metaphor. In the moment Jesus takes the fish and eats it, he is showing those gathered that God’s rules are at play and the world has shifted to a place where the sorrow and suffering are NOT the end of the story … we are to be open to life’s possibilities and potential, and see with the WHOLE of our being, what God wants for us and what God offers us …

Opening our lives to what’s around us is a simple concept. We often say it, but we’re less open to actually doing it. We fall into old habits and fit this concept into what has been, rather than embracing what could and would be if we were to truly open ourselves to the possibilities that exist around us.

Think of Rapunzel – poor dear Rapunzel locked in that tower by the nasty old witch. The only way Rapunzel gets visits is by lowering her hair and letting the witch climb to the window … Sue Monk Kidd is right when she asks “WHY?” – why doesn’t Rapunzel cut off her OWN hair and use it to climb down and run away … Why doesn’t the woman tied the tracks just reach down
and untie her OWN ankles and set her self free …

Because we’ve been conditioned – by the stories we tell ourselves – by the little tape that plays inside our heads – by our own past, we’ve convinced ourselves that we need to be rescued and helped and so we sit like Rapunzel playing our sad songs and lamenting as we call for help …

But Easter is the moment that breaks through and asks the blunt question – WHAT ARE YOU DOING???

Rapunzel, why are you sitting in this tower weeping and waiting for rescue when all you need to do is take the scissors and snip off your own hair and you have a rope to climb down on …

What is holding US captive?

What things in our lives are keeping us from being fully, the people we are meant to be?

What changes are we waiting for someone ELSE to make when in truth the changes are already within us?

My mind wanders to the old Saturday Night Live sketches that had Al Franken step out as self help motivator Stuart Smalley. Clad in a sweater and a big smile, he would look into the camera and say – “You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. Doggone it people like you…” and other warm pink fuzzy platitudes.

From the absurdity of this character whispers a truth … the gift of Grace that we are about as a Church is simply that – “you are good enough. You are smart enough. AND people DO like you …”

The power of the resurrection – the gift of Grace incarnate in our world is found in accepting that realization and opening ourselves to the FULL potential of what that can and does mean …

Opening our eyes to what is before us and having the courage and the faith to embrace God’s presence ALL around us …

There are countless people who have made MILLIONS of dollars from the whole self-help industry, and when you look critically at what is happening you realize that ALL of the successful self-help stories are about helping one’s self … we look out there to find what is already here …

The disciples wanted someone to push back the darkness and the fear and rescue them …and suddenly Jesus was there opening their eyes to what they already knew, but had simply forgotten …

Rapunzel cried for help and waited for rescue when the solution was there ALL the time …

We are Children of God – bound by love and grace … we can sit and lament how things are, or we can, as people of faith claim the gift of Grace and proclaim our faith in the resurrection by living IT …

The choice is ours … and doggone it - we know what we have to do!!

May it be so, Thanks be to God … Let us pray …

Sermon for April 19th 2009 - 2nd of Easter

In his book Twenty Piece Shuffle, that offers profound and moving reflections on inner city street life in downtown Toronto Greg Paul shares an experience of he and the staff at Sanctuary, a Church community not far off Yonge Street in the heart of Toronto following the brutal murder of a young woman who was involved in their ministry and community.

Cali was murdered in a subway station one Sunday afternoon, and as news of her killing spread amongst those gathering at Sanctuary for evening worship, grief, anger, exhaustion and despair over took the staff and volunteers and the community members as they wrestled with the death of a friend … in the cold-heartedness that marks life on the streets, the death of this young woman touched many in a startling way …

Paul describes the contacts they had with the you woman’s family, her friends on the street and those directly affected by her death … the emotions ran high as people struggled to make sense of the senseless, and tried to offer comfort to each other … Then one night almost a week later, the staff of Sanctuary gathered to do their usual “debrief” session and they were exhausted, beaten down, overwhelmed with grief, anger and despair. Sitting together in their meeting room they said little beyond blank stares, disjointed chatter and heart-felt sighs, until it was suggested they have communion …

Some one ran to an all-night grocery store, while some one else got a couple of glasses and a bottle of port that had been tucked away in an office … and they shared communion …

(light the candle - pour juice and break bread on small table at front of sanctuary)

They shared communion and it became an moving moment – “the brokenness of that bread stood for the shattered lives in our community, the aching sense of loss, and being lost that tore at our own hearts, our profound failure, we felt, to make a difference. It told us too, that Jesus was right there in our midst and out walking around in our neighbourhood among our friends who, like us were desperately trying to find a way to ease the pain. … But it didn’t feel like he was there. I think we felt in that moment like Martha and Mary must have, after they had sent an urgent message about their sick brother Lazarus to Jesus: “Come quickly, the one you love is dying.” And he stayed two more days in the distant town where he was when the message had first arrived.
Dawdling, apparently, while their own dear brother moaned and faded and finally expired. Easy enough to say, after the fact, that is was all just preparation for the resurrection that was coming, but what comfort was that at the time?
Slim comfort, too, that he was “out there” seemingly doing nothing to change the courses of our friends who were actively seeking their own demise, doing nothing to protect those who like Cali were defenseless. … The Wine: a deep foreboding purplish red in the candlelight.
Salvation, cleansing, healing, Words – mere words. But with the cup, a subtle shift.
We must, we begin to say to each other, recount the victories we have witnessed in the past.
We must lift up our heads, look for whatever flicker of light we can spot in this present darkness, and place our hope in a dawn yet to be revealed. This, here and now, is what faith is. The only alternative is despair. (pg 198-9)

In that moment, Paul and the others lived an Upper Room experience that paralleled that of Jesus’ disciples who gathered in the upper room following Jesus death and in the wake of the news that the tomb was empty and the women returning from the cemetery proclaiming that “Jesus has Risen.”

It is significant for us, 19 centuries removed, that the disciples returned to the place where in the last hours of his earthly life, Jesus broke bread and shared the cup. The centrality of communion to all that we are, and all that we do can not be under stated. Returning literally to the communion table in the darkness and uncertainty and fear is a significant thing …

What must it have been like that night in the upper room when the disciples gathered?

It could have happened within hours of discovering the empty tomb, it could have been a couple of days later, or it could have been a week later … we simply don’t know how long it was after the discovery of the empty tomb. What we do know however, is that the disciples and those gathered were frightened – they we terrified that they could be next if the authorities found them.

In the darkness – overwhelmed by their grief, their exhaustion, their despair – in the midst of that moment, where like Martha and Mary, Jesus fells absent … SUDDENLY – he is there … standing among them.

I wonder how many of us – if we were honest with ourselves – how many of us have had Upper Room moments. Moments when we’re sitting in a time and a place where we feel very much alone – frightened, scared, trembling in the dark – then suddenly we are overwhelmed by the holy …

Paul shares with us one of those moments … when in the midst of the darkness a flicker of light is found … Theologically, I would dare to say that moment is what communion is all about … from the ordinary and the profane – ordinary bread and ordinary wine – suddenly, we are embraced and overwhelmed by the holy …

I remember one such moment in my journey when I served in Bella Coola among the first peoples there. In town there was a group of gentleman known as the troopers.

The troopers – or the troops, were the guys who got up in the morning and wandered around town – or trooped around town – gathering empties and doing odd jobs for a bit of cash. When they gathered enough they then TROOPED to the liquour store and made a variety of purchases for the remainder of their day.

I used to watch them walk past my house on their way to the liquor store, and would at times open the door and yell at them – “don’t forget to bring me back the 10% for the church …”

They ALWAYS met my call with laughter – sometimes a few cat-calls – but always laughter and the invitation to come and help them if I wanted 10% for the church.

After they made their purchase they would return to one of their houses and weather dependent - sit on the front step to enjoy it. One afternoon when I was off to visit an elder they called from the front step saying – “Hey, we got the wine – if you had some bread we could have communion …”

Later that week after fresh bread was baked in our house, I took a small loaf and slipped it into my coat and headed off into the village. As I was passing by the house where the Troops were sitting they waved their bottle and said – “hey, we got wine if you had bread we could …” their words were cut short when I pulled out the loaf of bread …

We sat in the warm spring sunshine and broke bread and poured out the wine and laughed, and cried … and embraced holiness … The full impact of the holy came later … when the Troops would call when one of their number would end up in the hospital and wanted me to visit … when I needed someone to help paint the CE Hall behind the Church and they were there … when they needed to talk about their life experiences including Residential School, they trusted me to be the one to share their hurt and pain for …

The holy came from that moment when we broke bread and shared the cup and found comfort in the circle we formed on the front step of their house … it brought them comfort that transcended the moment and helped us find the faint flicker of light that helped to guide us forward …

Unfortunately, many of us are too much like Thomas … we want instant results – we want to be able to feel and taste the Holy … we won’t believe unless we can touch it and see it for ourselves …

And yet, it is here (the broken bread, the poured cup, the candle) where we see and touch and taste the holy for ourselves … we break the bread and we remember … we pour and share the cup and we remember … we gather around the table and build and share and celebrate the community where the whisper is heard – “place your hand here and believe …” “touch and believe …”

When we break bread we are not only remembering the very presence of Jesus, we are also naming and owning our brokenness. We are broken – like the bread, we are broken and the fragments of our lives are sometimes tossed around like the crumbs that fall when we tear the loaf …

When we pour out the cup we are not only remembering the Easter Sacrifice of Jesus, we are also naming and owning the bleeding wounds that we have sometimes had to endure … the broken hearts, the bleeding spirits, and the scarring stain that remains as the wounded begins to heal. The deep dark colour of the wine connects us to this as we pour the cup …

The power of Communion is the memories and the actions … we break bread and remember our brokenness and the brokenness that Jesus himself experienced … we pour out the cup and remember the woundedness in our lives and the wounds that Jesus himself experienced … in Communion we remember that even in those moments when we feel profoundly and utterly alone … when like Martha and Mary we wonder where He is … when like Greg Paul and his associates we wonder where He is … when like the disciples gathered and cowering in the upper room we wonder not only where He is, but how ALL OF THIS COULD POSSIBLY HAPPEN … in that moment as we remember – suddenly we are not alone …and we are enveloped and overwhelmed by the Holy … and we are challenged to fall to our knees and simply believe … it’s that simple …

… may it be so … thanks be to God. Let us Pray.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Easter Sunday Sermon ...

Easter Sunday – April 12th 2009 – First Presbyterian Portage

The story is familiar – we know the cast of characters, we know what happened.
Each year we mark the events of Easter and recount the story – it is familiar to us.
But – and this is the rub – what does it mean to talk about the Resurrection?
What does it mean to say – “He’s Risen”
Or “I’ve seen the Lord”

How do we celebrate something that we’ve known only from a printed story in an ancient book?
How do we embody the concept of BEING and Easter People when, if push really came to shove – we wouldn’t really have a clue of what it means to speak of the Resurrection, much less proclaim “He is Risen?” or “I’ve seen the Lord.”

On one level, that’s the power of the Easter story and the cast of characters that people it. We may find ourselves like Thomas who missed the happenings of Easter Morning and later sat in the upper room with the others who were happily chattering about the Risen Lord. It was Thomas who said – “I won’t believe until I see and feel for myself the Risen One …”

Or perhaps we’re like Peter and the other disciples who when the women arrived with the news that the tomb was empty and Jesus had been risen from the dead, ran to see for themselves. They had just enough doubt to question the veracity of the story from the women of all people – just enough doubt that they HAD to go and see for themselves …

Or perhaps we’re like the women … we approach these events in the the darkness – in the uncertainty of just not knowing for sure what has happened, only to discover … the earth has shifted, our understanding and our rational intellectual approaches are for naught … things are NOT what they should be … what we expected, anticipated and even dreamt of are simply NOT to be … things are in upheaval and uncertainty …

The women are perhaps the figures in this story where we can enter the story and experience THIS (…) for ourselves.

One of my professors at McMaster wrote a book on the role of anonymous characters in the Jewish Scriptures, and from the simple question – “why do some of the most important stories have a nameless anonymous character in them?” If the stories are so important, why aren’t all the characters named?

As an example – what’s the name of Noah’s wife??
She is central to all of the work that needed to be done, yet she has NO NAME.

Dr Reinhartz opened the door for the possibility that the anonymous characters are intentionally placed in the narrative of the story so that we – you and I – as listeners and readers can place ourselves IN the story, and experience the events in a first hand way.

In the Easter Story there are numerous anonymous individuals who break into the scene and fade away … the young man who ran away naked, the hapless servant who lost and ear, the Centurion who stood at the foot of the cross, and now this morning, we hear of the ‘disciple Jesus loved’ who figures prominently in the narrative of Jesus’ life, but is NEVER named …

Perhaps the whole point of this story – the account of Mary and Peter and the others, is to open ourselves to the possibility that we are to enter the story and be part of the moment when the disciples say – “I have seen the Lord …” and to live the consequences of that statement: “I have seen the Lord …”

This past week I’ve been reading the various resources I brought back with me from the StreetLevel Conference in Ottawa and over and over I keep stumbling on modern expressions of the old Celtic Blessing – “may you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet, and may they see the face of Christ in you …”

It’s such a simple concept – such a simple idea – yet, it is one that we struggle with in the Church constantly …

We can think of numerous examples of un-Christ like behaviour in our leaders and laity that leaves us shaking our heads … but it’s the complacency of saying – NOTHING – that is most troubling.

We are called to faith.
We are called to living and sharing our faith.

And yet, when we see glaring examples of un-Christ like behaviour we will shrug our shoulders and say – “what can you do?” and at times breath a sigh of relief that it’s THEM that got caught rather than ourselves … the spot light is on their dark little corner, not ours – “WHEW!!!”

If we take seriously the notion that we are to BE the face of Christ to the world many of us have some work to do …

Our attitudes need to be fine tuned.

Our outlook needs to be reoriented.

Our ideals need to be adjusted.

Our paradigm needs to be shifted …


And that’s the problem. … If it was easy and comfortable we’d be there yesterday.

But when it challenges us to look critically at who we are, how we fit in the world, and what we’ve been about – right down to our most deeply held beliefs – well, that’s a whole other ball game isn’t it?

That’s the point of the Easter Story … something wondrous and amazing has happened … we are no longer prisoners to the way things were … we are no longer to fear the shadows of death and darkness … God has entered Human life and history in a startling way and said – “Hey people – here’s a radically different way of looking at and living in and moving through the world!!!”

It’s called FAITH.

It’s about GRACE.

It’s about a gift of LOVE.

The resurrection is about the Kingdom of God in our midst – here and now, not in some sweet hereafter over there in the by and by – but here and now.

When the word spread that the tomb was empty, things started to change … The Risen Christ is not dead and gone – the Risen Christ moves among us – if we have the courage to open our eyes and see …

We speak words of welcome – but are they conditional? Offered only to the people who we are comfortable and like? Or are they unconditional and open to ALL?

If we are project Christ into the world – are the words of our lips – the prayers and proclamations we make here in this place – consistent with the actions and thoughts we have on Tuesday afternoon? Or Thursday morning? Or Friday night?

Its easy to say – “may we see the face of Christ in everyone we meet.” But what if that face is in the gutter? Or in an AIDS hospice? Or looking at us from between prison bars? Or dirty and drunken?

There’s the challenge of Easter in our modern world … Christ is Risen … we can see the Risen Christ all around us … the challenge is whether we really want to …

It’s easy to say – “I’ve seen the Lord …”

It’s harder to live that understanding as we move through our days … yet we are called to see the Lord in ALL people, not just some.

May it be so – thanks be to God … let us pray.

(and as though on cue - at the conclusion of the service when everyone retreated downstairs for coffee, they were joined by a very inebriated gentleman who was given a cup of coffee, some very generously heaped sandwiches, and asked if there was anything else "we" could do for him? He headed back into his day having recieved a warm welcome and the gift of sustenance ... I felt like I'm preaching to the converted !!!)

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sermon for April 5th 2009 - Palm Sunday ...

April 5th 2009

Today is Palm Sunday …

Lord Jesus …over the broken glass of our world, over the rumours meant to hurt, over the prejudice meant to wound, over the weapons meant to kill … ride on trampling our attepts at disaster into dust … ride on, ride on in majesty.

Over the distance that separates us from you, and it is such a distance measurable in half truths, in unkept promises, in second-best obedience … ride on until you touch and heal us – we who feel for no one but ourselves … ride on, ride on in majesty …

… through the back streets and sin bins, and the sniggered-at-corners of our city where life festers and love runs cold … ride on bringing hope and dignity where most send scorn and silence. Ride on, ride on in majesty …

For you O Christ, do care, and you must show us how. On our own our ambitions rival your summons and thus threaten good faith and neglect God’s people … in your company and at your side we might yet help to bandage and heal the wounds of the world … ride on, ride on in majesty, and take us with your … (Page 76-77 – Stages on the Way.)

And so today we begin our journey into the events of Holy week … a journey that WILL carry us from the Hosannas of a triumphant entry into the city of Jerusalem, through the horrors of Jesus’ arrest, his trial, his torture and abuse and his death, through the profound and utter darkness of the days that follow his death on the cross, and then after the darkness comes the glorious Hallelujahs of Easter morning …

Unfortunately, in the Church we have a propensity to jump from Hosannas to Hallelujah’s and not take time in the uncomfortable darkness that lies between.

Darkness makes us uncomfortable … it’s a scary place … we can’t see clearly … dangers might lurk just out there somewhere …

Think about horror films – from the early films with the likes of Boris Karloff and Bela Lagosi, through to the slasher films of the modern era – darkness is a simply frightening place to linger – in the case of movies, it could cost you your life …

Fortunately, at least for us, Easter doesn’t cost our lives – it cost Jesus his – but we are relatively safe …

Still, darkness is not an appealing place – it’s uncertain, confusing, disconcerting, and frightening … we walk more quickly at night … we tend to avoid certain places at night … and when we enter a darkened room we tend to flick on a light … we don’t like the darkness – so we avoid it – figuratively and literally.

So, it is somewhat natural that we tend to jump through Holy Week and skip over the dark bits … the talk of dying … the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of the cup … the abandonment … the loneliness … the gut-wrenching prayers … the pain … the sorrow … the tears … the blood … the agony … and the death …

Easter Week is a hard place to travel … it’s not about a gentle Jesus, meek and mild … Holy week is not a pleasant spring like place filled with flowers and bunnys and pastel colours … Holy Week is a hard and dark place where the deepest emotions we are capable of feeling come to the fore and we are confronted with how cold and hard our world can be …

Ann Weems writes of Holy week:

Holy is the week ,,, Holy, Consecrated, belonging to God … we move from hosanna to horrow with the predictable ease of those who know not what they do …

Our hosannas sung, our palms waved,
Let us go with passion into the week.

It is a time to curse fig trees that do not yield fruit.

It is a time to cleanse our temples of any blasphemy.

It is a time to greet Jesus at the Lord’s Anointed One, to lavishly break our alabaster and pour perfume out for him without counting the cost …

It is a time for preparation …
The time to give thanks and break the bread is upon us.
The time to give thanks and drink of the cup is imminent …

Eat, drink, remember.

On the night of night each one of us must ask as we dip our bread in the wine – IS IT I???

And on that darkest of days, each of us must stand beneath the tree and watch the dying if we are to be there when the stone is rolled away …

The only road to Easter Morning is through the unrelenting shadows of that Friday. Only then will the alleluias be sung, only then will the dancing begin. (pg 67 – Kneeling in Jerusalem)

The problem – if it really is a problem – is that Easter, when we intentionally walk thru it, makes us uncomfortable and it makes us move past our comfortable assumptions … we have to face not just the harshness of life, but also the struggles that are part of it … Fortunately, Easter offers us the vivid and breath-taking reminder that in the face of the worst life can throw at us – at you and I – God has already been there, and is ready to carry us through …

Easter is the moment when the words of the Psalmist – “yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou are with me …” come true.

After the darkest night – a rich beautiful dawn will break upon us … after the harshest ugliest storm – a beautiful rainbow will beckon us … after the cold flood waters recede a warm and glorious spring will come … The Resurrection is THAT profound and that simple …

The challenge is – we’ve grown complacent and comfortable in our faith. Attending – or not attending Church is easy. We can show up on Sunday morning, or not … we can join in the prayers and hymns, or not … we can drop a few dollars on the collection plate, stick around for a cup of coffee, and feel good about ourselves, or not … it’s all terribly comfortable.

Even when we look around and wrestle with some of the issues we’re facing – it’s still pretty comfortable.

And I think that is one of the biggest challenges we face as a people of faith … the comfortableness of our society has rendered faith irrelevant, not only for those folks out in the community, but for us as well … our faith has become a habit … something we do and don’t really think much about …

I point no fingers in this … I always say that my grandfather – my Presbyterian Grandfather – always told us kids not to point fingers – “for when you point a finger in judgment at another, three fingers are pointing back at yourself!!”

Instead, I include myself in this comfort … I have in many areas of my life grown complacent and almost lazy when it comes to things of faith … the challenge to be faced and over come is an openness to the intimacy that the Easter Season offers. Not the warm fuzzy, bunny filled Easter – but the journey that finds friends abandoning Jesus – the journey that finds the crowds that had so eagerly welcomed him fleeing and turning on him – the journey that finds us standing in the darkness of the garden, the courtyard, the back alley, the hillside … the journey ahead is neither easy nor comfortable, but in a full life it is necessary …

Today the journey begins … we’ve walked in the streets of Jerusalem and felt the palm branches crunch underfoot as the Chosen One of God is welcomed in as the Messiah – the Saviour – the one to rescue us … soon we will hear the thunk of the door closing as we gather in the upper room and the talk will turn from the triumph of the procession to the trials of prayer and suffering … In the coming week is the story of humanity – our story … the challenge – the call – the vocation we are called to is to walk carefully and thoughtfully knowing that even in the silent alone-ness of the darkness that lies ahead God is present …

May it be so – thanks be to God – let us pray …

Sermon for March 29th 2009

Old Testament reading for this morning places God firmly at the centre of all that we and all that we are.
We are mandated to love God with the whole of our being.
This is the first step in our faith. The first step in our ministry, and it is the thing – the essence – the grounding – the foundation of EVERYTHING we do from that point on. Loving God with the whole of our being is the axis around which all else revolves.
This past week I was in Ottawa attending the national Streetlevel 2009 Conference – a gathering of folks connected by issues of poverty and homelessness. Streetlevel is organized by the Roundtable on Poverty and Homelessness, who are a gathering of representatives of street level outreach ministries from across Canada, including Winnipeg’s Siloam Misson.
The Conference itself had Executive Directors, Board Members, Front Line Staff, Clients, Supporters, policy makers, politicians, and community representatives. Almost 400 people in all gathered for 3 days of worship, reflection, story telling, prayer, celebration and a commitment to the important work done everyday amongst the most vulnerable, broken and needy on the streets of our communities.
It was in a word – INCREDIBLE.
It was busy, exhausting, inspiring, and at times heart-breaking. As we celebrate the good work that is being accomplished, we are reminded of the failures and set backs and the ache of knowing there will always be those we simply can not reach …
The tone of the Conference was set for me when at the first night’s session several speakers noted that perhaps that as a Church we missed Jesus’ real commissioning when we place the emphasis on Matthew where the RISEN Christ commands his followers to go into the world and make disciples of everyone on earth.
They mused on whether the mechanics of discipleship – the action required to do the outreach – was missing the point, and whether we would do well to return to the Gospel of Luke where Jesus addresses the assembled crowd in his home synagogue – his home congregation – and with great flourish unrolls the massive scroll of Isaiah to the words – “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me…” Anointed him to heal the sick, to give sight to the blind, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to set the prisoners free and to proclaim the Kingdom of God !!

What if that – that call to action – was the Great Commissioning of the Church? That was the question posed to us – at the Conference – and today as the Church – what if caring for the outcasts and the cast offs was our Commissioning as people of Faith?What if we are to care for the poor, the addicted, the mentally ill, the homeless, the imprisoned – what if these are the people we are to make, not just disciples of, but to welcome and to include them in our life and work?
What if ?
It’s a radical thought … and in saying it’s a radical thought, there is an understanding of Radical that comes into play that has profound – incredibly profound implications … We use ‘radical’ for anything that is “out there” and that doesn’t fit the norm and is a bit off the wall – Radical tends to be applied to the things that rock the boat and stir the pot and challenge the status quo.
But it turns out that radical is about returning to the basics – to the foundations – the very roots of our faith.
In the modern Church, radical is not the out there stuff that rocks the boat and ruffles feathers, but radical is the stuff that is at the very heart of our faith – the stuff that is really important – and that is the simple idea that God is present and manifest in our lives!!

Speaker after speaker reminded us of the centrality of God in all that we do and in all that we are … trusting in God, not just to strengthen us in our work and ministry, but to heal and render WHOLE those we encounter daily who are in need of wholeness and healing.
The reminder – “I can’t heal any body” helped to recall that it is God who heals and it is God who offers the gift of wholeness.
But the true radical-ness of faith comes in that moment when we realize what a return to the foundations of our faith really means.
The Roundtable on poverty and homelessness affirmed the Ottawa Manifesto three years ago that reads in part:
Abandoning people to poverty increases health problems and welfare rolls, and sometimes drives people to crime – all major burdens for governments, and therefore, tax payers. The generational entrenchment of poverty diminishes hope (the capacity to dream) and the sense of personal value in the individual. Children, the unrealized potential of our nation, when they are born into poverty, start life so far behind others that they may never be able to catch up. The whole of society is enriched when the creative gifts of the poor are supported by governmental and social systems that affirm the value of what they have to offer. When people are shut out because of their poverty, poverty itself “snowballs”, at once increasing our societal burden and diminishing our societal capacity. Homelessness in Canada is a clear and concrete manifestation of this truth.
That is the true radicalness of our faith – embracing our call – our call to include the outsider, to love the unlovable, and to embrace the outcasts.
Discipleship at a distance is easy – radical inclusion is a whole other ball of wax. Glenn Paul writes of radical inclusion when he notes:
“giving some money to a panhandler is something I know I can manage; it can even make me feel good about myself. But embracing him as brother, literally putting my arms around his smelly, drunken, psychotic and possibly bug-ridden person, grappling with the concept that he, too is beloved of God, precious and made in his image – well, this provides and unnerving peek into my own soul.”

This is the moment the seed falls to the ground and dies … the status quo doesn’t cut it … a few coins in an empty cup, or an outstretched hand isn’t enough … the way things were is not how they will be … we are called to more … we are called to:

Therefore, to our brothers and sisters who struggle with poverty and homelessness, we commit to…

LEARN all we can about the systemic, sociological, economic, cultural and spiritual deficits that have left them in this state. We will listen carefully to them, for they are our greatest teachers. We will seek out the knowledge others have acquired, and teach what we ourselves have learned to those who want to care more effectively for people who are poor or homeless;

ACT with diligence and integrity to create with them healthy, nurturing relationships, and safe, secure, dignified homes;

SPEAK on their behalf when their own voices are not heard, and support them in speaking for themselves, to the end that Canadian churches, governments, media and businesses would make the substantial reduction of homelessness, poverty and their root causes a high priority; and

COOPERATE with others committed to these baseline objectives, respecting differences of approach and philosophy.


The Ottawa manifesto calls us to faith and in faith we are to learn, act, speak and cooperate – we can no longer simply toss our pennies at the problem and say “Bless you” Now we are to roll up our sleeves and DO.
It is all about going back to our roots – reclaiming our foundations – rediscovering the basics.
We are, as Jesus counseled, to let the grain fall into the ground where it DIES … dies … the seed falls into the ground and dies …
Without the cold and snow of winter there would be no spring … without the darkness of the night there would be no glorious dawn … without the death of the seed there would be no abundant harvest … the seed has to die before it can bring forth new life.
We are the seeds. … we are the seeds that must die to produce an abundant harvest. And this analogy gains tremendous power when we consider that the Church – not just THIS church – but THE Church – is in decline. The act of dying is no longer a theoretical exercise – it is the reality we are living – it is a frighteningly real prospect.
We have become a marginalized minority.
We are poised on the verge of oblivion – and yet – WE ARE THE SEED – the grain that falls to the ground and must die before it can live …WEMUST DIE before we can experience the transformative power of the Resurrection.
Death is a physical reality, yet in the church it has many other manifestations as well.
Dying to the way things have been.
Letting go of the status quo.
Reaching out past our comfort zones.
Living a radical inclusivity – seeing the world in a new way …
ALL of these things represent a dying – and ALL of them offer the promise of a resurrection – a transformative rebirth to the Holy Presence of God in our lives and in our world.
The Lenten Season is a time for anticipating and preparing for the events of Easter. And Easter is about one thing – Death and Resurrection.
AND we are an Easter People. Yet we tend to speak of death and dying in whispers and hushed tones, lest we offend anyone … and we speak of the Resurrection as a one time event that happened long ago in a place far from here called Jerusalem …
We are an Easter People – a people of the Resurrection. We are called to proclaim the life and DEATH and RESURRECTION of Christ. We are people commissioned to go into the world and share the message of hope, and grace and love that issues forth from the transformative power God offers through the Resurrection.
We are to die to the way things are, and instead experience the Resurrection of returning to the foundations of our faith – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me …”

There’s no room for passivity or arm’s length charity. Our call – our vocation – our ministry – is to open the doors of our sanctuary – those doors back there – and the doors right here (in our hearts) AND welcome in those who desperately need to hear and experience the Hope – the life changing HOPE that our faith as an Easter People embodies.
God is present in our world and in our lives.
That is our Covenant with God – God shall be our God and WE – you and I and the stranger, the out cast, the AIDs patient, the orphan, the drunk, the soldier, the baby, the criminal, the minority, the homosexual, the mentally ill, the esteemed elder, the politician, the child, the enemy combatant, the refugee …ALL of us – all of us shall be God’s people.
And that understanding: that all of us shall be God’s people should be more than enough to send us into the world a transformed and resurrected people … may it be so … thanks be to God. Let us Pray.