Radical Generosity: I choose to see you as my equal.

James writes: “What good is it, my friends, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed or hungry, and you say “go in peace, be warm and filled”, without giving them what they need, what good is that?”

Today’s Lessons: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

We’ve all heard and know that faith without works is dead – it’s not enough to believe that Jesus is Lord, to believe that we’re all made in the Image of God and that we have a story of freedom and mercy to bring to all the world, if we’re not going to turn that into real action.

We all know that.

But have you ever thought about the fact that works aren’t just physical things we do: they’re not just deeds done – like feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick, or offering a word of encouragement or a listening ear when someone is lost and lonely.  Works are more than that.  There’s a reason that, when we confess our sins, we’re taught to ask for forgiveness not just for things done or left undone, or for the words we’ve said: no, we ask forgiveness for thoughts, words, and deeds.

The big idea for today is that, as much as faith without works is dead, one of those necessary works is changing how we think about and see each other.

God’s Generous Perspective

We all know that God is good and God is generous.  He provides for all people – the good and the bad, the faithful and the self-righteous.  What does anyone of us have that doesn’t boil down to a gift from God?

But as we read in today’s lessons, one of the great gifts of God that we rarely think about is the gift of his generous perspective.  God’s gifts to us aren’t just stuff or talents or health and strength; one of the greatest gifts he gives us is the way he chooses to see us.

In Proverbs today, we’re reminded that, unlike the way the world works, God doesn’t see rich or poor. As James teaches, God doesn’t see well-dressed or shabby, and he doesn’t see worldly power or the many distinctions we make between people.  Jesus shows us today in the Gospel that he doesn’t respect the boundaries we set up about race or language or inequality.

No: the great gift of God’s perspective is that He looks past all of that.  He looks at us, in the moment, as men and women made in His Image, and looks only to see if we’re reflecting that Image back.  He looks past all the distinctions and divisions we make to see if we’ve unpacked – or at least opened – that gift of faith, and whether we’re allowing his love, mercy, joy, peace, and abundant life to shine, reflected back – to His Glory, and for all the world to see.

Reflecting God’s Glory

Now, we’ve spoken before about the fact that we are created to reflect the glory of God.

But it’s important for us to remember that isn’t just about the warm, fuzzy ideas of reflecting God’s love and light.  Faith without works is dead, but one of those works is choosing to look at others as God looks at us, the work of choosing to share God’s perspective both for ourselves and for those around us.  And let me say: that’s a far more difficult task than donating some time, talent, or treasure.  Learning to share God’s perspective is the life-long task of allowing your mind to be transformed, renewed by being an apprentice, a disciple, of Christ Jesus.

Radical Generosity?

It’s easy for us to limit generosity.  The world thinks only of charity, giving from what you have to someone who has less, whether it’s a millionaire generously building a wing on a hospital with their name written over the door, or someone making a donation to support the food bank or PWRDF.  But like so many other things, God’s definition goes deeper, and asks more of us.

Now don’t get me wrong – that charitable sort of generosity is great.  In fact, James says it’s essential.  You can’t get emptier words than looking at a hungry person and saying “oh, feel full!  Think happy thoughts!  Don’t be hungry any more” and walking away! 

But, at the same time, we all know giving great gifts doesn’t mean you have a generous spirit.

So as James says, yes, we’re to fill and clothe those in need, but reflecting God’s generosity means we’re also going to look at them from God’s perspective.

Whether rich or poor, regardless of any of those distinctions or lines we draw based on   race, or gender, or addictions, or whether they’re unemployed, or whether they live in housing, or struggling against a mental illness, or fighting the demons of childhood trauma and broken families, or whether we disagree with how they raise their kids, or even whether they smell and just don’t appear to take pride in what they’ve been given, or even if they’ve earned a reputation for taking advantage of the system – regardless of all of that, God’s perspective is to look at that person and say “yeah, I know what you’ve done, but I love you, and I want you to be my child; I’ll always give you another chance as long as you live – take it, don’t trust yourself, trust in me”.

That’s God’s radical generosity.  And that’s the sort of incredibly hard work, without which our faith is simply dead, little more than empty words saying “be well, be full, be happy”.

Are we willing to look past all those lines that we draw and reflect God’s generous perspective back to a world that divides and enslaves and weighs people down?

Faith in Practice

Faith without works is dead, but the matter of putting faith into action is always a hard one.  God’s not saying “go, be taken advantage of”; after all, it was Jesus who said we’re to be shrewd as serpents but innocent as doves!  And we all know Jesus was making a point when he told the rich young man to sell everything if he wanted to be a disciple: it wasn’t that his stuff kept him from the Kingdom of God, it was the fact that his heart was attached, weighed down by that stuff.

But the point is, when it comes to reflecting God’s generosity, putting faith into action it’s not a matter of just writing a cheque, buying a meal, or spending an hour chatting with one who is sick or lonely. 

God generously looks at each person and says “I love you as much as I love my own Son; I want you to be my child”, so we’re to look at each person – no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they did[1] – and change our thinking, to do that work of looking at that person and thinking “I want you to be my brother or sister”, of seeing that person, in whatever condition they might be, and honestly saying to yourself “I would love nothing better than if this person, right here, would come to church, put their faith in God, and be my brother or sister in Christ, so we can work together, learn to live together, and bear one-another’s burdens”.

That’s radical generosity.  Anyone – even the most selfish – can put in a few dollars for the Christmas food and toy drive.  But God’s generosity, the one we’re called to share, is to allow your mind to be transformed so that your honest desire is to welcome that hungry, or lonely, or annoying, or lazy, or sly, or mean person into your family of faith, trusting that God can do the same work of forgiving, healing, and changing their heart as he’s done for each of us.

What does the law of God require?

That you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and that you love your neighbour as yourself.

– The Summary of the Law

Yes, that’s our faith.  But the trick is turning faith into action, adopting the perspective, allowing your mind to be trained to think “I don’t see rich or poor.  I don’t see you as powerful, or unemployed. I don’t see you as anything greater or less than my equal, and as God looks at me, I’m going to choose to love you as myself.”

It’s a tall order.  But that’s the kind of faith-in-action that changes lives, and changes communities, and changes the world.  That’s the kind of radical generosity that God is calling us to live.  My God give us his grace to say “ok, here I am, I’m willing, send me.” 

[1] Yes, I guess that is a Backstreet Boys reference.  It just happened… sorry, I grew up in the 90s!

God says, “I would walk 500 miles; and I would walk 500 more!”

(Ok, maybe that’s a slight paraphrase!)

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.”

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

That lesson this morning has to be one of the weirdest in the whole lectionary.   It’s so strange that the BAS offers an alternative just in case we’d rather not deal with it.  But, you should know me well enough by now to know that, if there’s something weird in the Bible, that’s what I’m going to preach a sermon on!

The Song of Solomon is a full-on love poem… or maybe it’s more like a steamy romance novel.  The lectionary, kindly, has given us a pretty PG section – but even here, look at what’s being said: there’s an eager, muscular stag of a lover, leaping over mountains and bounding over hills, and here he is peeking through the windows and poking his face in through the garden lattice just to ask his beloved to run off with him into flowery meadows filled with turtledoves, figs, and vines of juicy grapes.  …And believe me, that’s just the start!

God is… lover?

Now, your whole life, you’ve heard and known that God is love.  “Jesus loves me, this I know”; “God is so good, he cares for me”, and “the King of Love my shepherd is”.  We know that God loves us, that his perfect Fatherly love is far beyond what we could imagine from our earthly parents. He’s one who patiently waits, who sent his own son to seek us out and pay the price of our redemption, and who runs to throw his arms around the prodigal who returns. 

But in the messiness of this world – and if you’ve listened to even 5 minutes of news this week, you’re well aware of the messiness – in all of that, we tend to reduce God’s love to a concept or an idea.  But it’s more than that.  God’s love is action.

Now, this lesson is all one big metaphor, but metaphors and poetry are meant to help us wrap our heads around ideas that are too hard to see and understand on their own.

You know God is love, that he loves you, but did you know that his love is like this?

Nowhere in scripture do we find God pictured as a stern old guy with a long beard, watching from a distance, waiting for an opportunity to scold and punish.  If that’s the image of God you’ve been given – then, on behalf of the Church, I’m sorry, because that’s not what we find anywhere in scripture.

No, this is what we find!

God loves you, God wants to be with you so much that he’s prancing over mountains to get to you!  You’ve heard the song “I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more…”.  Yeah – God loves you like that!

The type of love that God has for you is the love that leads him to climb mountains and valleys, wade across rivers, and cross deserts just to be in a relationship with you; he’ll relentlessly and energetically seek you out just to meet you where you are and say “my love, come away!”.

And, as the metaphor continues, when God gets near us, what does he find?  A wall.  Of course.  (We’re good at building walls, aren’t we?).  But does that keep God from the love he has for us? 

No, as we read in that weird lesson this morning, God becomes a bit of a peeping tom!  But he’s not watching, making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out if you’re naughty or nice – that’s not God!  No, whenever we put up a wall, we know God gave us free will and respects our decision, but God’s going to be there peering in through the windows, trying to get your attention.  If you’ve got a fence made of lattice, he’s going to be calling out through the openings “come away, I love you, you don’t have to stay in there!  There’s a feast, and flowery meadows, and streams of living water!  I love you, come with me!  Let me show you!”

When we say God is love, when we sing about love divine, it’s that sort of love: a love that seeks us out, a love that will not let me go, and even if I’ve put up a wall, he’s peeking in through the windows and calling out over the fence saying “come”, you don’t have to stay in there, let me show you how much you are loved; let my glory be revealed in you – redeemed, restored, and being made fully alive![1]

Requited Love?

If that’s how God loves us – not something earned, not something conditional – then what’s our part in that?

We just need to be responsive to God’s love.

It’s as easy as that; this isn’t an over-simplification.

When you hear that faint “come away!  Trust me!  Let me show you what I’ve got planned!  It doesn’t have to be like this!  Come with me!”, well, you know what?  It’s in those moments that we need to be doers of the word, and not hearers only.  God loves us, he just wants us to respond.

When you’ve got that knot in your gut, when a situation just isn’t sitting well, when you can’t rest, and you’re anxious, and you just can’t find any peace, that tension is because the one who offers peace that passes understanding is peering in through the window in the wall you built, calling out “come away, it doesn’t have to be like this, let’s do it my way, I’ll show you how good it can be!”.

But what does James say?[2]

God loves us, he thinks we’re beautiful, he sees our potential and wants to be with us so that we can see all that he has in store for us. 

But we hear that, and James says we’re like those who look in a mirror but just can’t accept what we’re seeing.  We know God loves us, but then we start to say “no, I don’t know what God sees in me.  How could God love me?”

And rather than answering God’s call, we dismiss his voice, and draw the blinds so we don’t see him waving outside the window.

But what God wants is for us to listen.  He’s already made all the effort.

He wants to lift us up and lead us on.  And yeah, it will lead back over those mountains and through those valleys that he crossed to find us, but he’ll be with us, to comfort, guide, direct, and provide along the way.

He’s calling.  Each of us can hear him faintly through the walls we’ve built.  Each of us can feel him in our gut when we’re apart from his peace.  But, when we hear or feel that Word, the right response is to just do it: to see ourselves as God sees us, to love those whom God loves; to bridle our tongues – and I think that’s as much about the lies we tell ourselves as what we say to each other; and to keep our hearts open, making room for God to purify them; as Jesus said today, it’s not what comes in that makes us a mess, it’s what resides in our heart that makes us a mess.[3]

“Behold, here God comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills! He’s like a gazelle, or a stag!  God is here, calling out over your wall, gazing in through your windows, saying, “I love you.  Trust in me!  Come away.”

We hear and feel that Word every day.  He’s made that effort.  Now, may we have the grace to respond.  Amen.

[1] St. Irenaeus, in arguing against those said God’s favour had to be earned, famously summarized scripture in saying “the Glory of God is a human person made fully alive” by beholding the likeness of God in Christ Jesus, face to face.  As James 1:17-18 and the whole design of worship under the Old Covenant shows, God’s glory isn’t a thing for us to look at, as though he’s lacking if his glory goes unnoticed; God’s glory is revealed through the act of broken, sinful people like us being brought in, cleaned up, healed, restored, and made to share his overflowing and abundant life!

[2] James 1:17-27

[3] Mark 7:21-23

God in a box? The problem of perspective.

As human beings, one of our biggest skills is putting things into boxes.

No, I don’t mean physically packing things away in boxes.  But one of the things that sets us apart from animals, one of the ways we show this God-given gift of reason is our ability to categorize things, to understand what something does, and to give it a proper place.

If you give a dog a nice big ham bone after Sunday dinner, that dog has no problem taking that juicy, dripping bone and running to her soft bed or, if you’re not watching, taking that wet bone up on the couch.  And if your dog gets wet, he has no problem shaking that water off wherever he is, throwing that water in every direction.  People are different – at least we can be; we’re built to organize and categorize our lives.  We have one room for cooking, another area for eating, one room for showering, and unlike that dog, we had better dry off before tracking that water through the hall back to the bedroom!

That ability to distinguish between things, to compare and contrast things that have no obvious connection in nature is part of the Image of God given to us. 

Yet, as we read today in the book of Kings, we have to acknowledge the limits of our ability to categorize things, to put things in neat little boxes.  We have to remember that our experience is limited by our experience, that our perspective is limited by the position in which we find ourselves, and our ability to imagine what is possible is limited by the weakness of our own power to change the world around us.

God in a box.

All of us know in our heads that God is present everywhere.  ‘Where can I go to escape your presence?  If I go to the highest mountain or the deepest depths of the sea, even if I go to the grave, you are there.’ (Psalm 139). 

And maybe you’ve never thought of it this way before, but as we’ll see this year as we read The Story together, God’s singular desire is for us to live with Him; all of scripture is God showing the lengths to which the Trinity will go to bring us into their life and presence. 

But as we come to our Old Testament lesson today, we see God being put into a box.

Now, throughout the history of God’s people, He’s been with them, revealed in different ways at different times.  In dreams and visions, in the visitation of angels; the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire that led from captivity to freedom, as a smoky cloud of power and presence that hovered over the Ark of the Covenant in the tent of meeting as Israel wandered the wilderness.  But now, having come to peace in the promised land, King David had been hard at work building up the city of Jerusalem, erecting strong walls and gates, and a lofty palace to rival the homes of neighbouring kingdoms.  And then he asks the question: is it right that I, the king, live in a palace, while God is worshipped in a tent? (2 Samuel 7:2).  God refuses to let David build the house of God, because he had shed too much human blood in battle; instead, God appoints Solomon, David’s son, to build the temple where God’s presence would reside.

Solomon does that.  Construction takes 7 years.  It’s an big structure, even by modern standards.  The holy of holies – the dwelling place of God – is at the centre, a windowless box with 40-foot ceilings, surrounded by an inner courtyard for sacrifice and thanksgiving, and an enormous outer courtyard for teaching and worship and public festivals. 

But here’s the amazing thing: God, who is present everywhere, whom the heavens and the earth cannot contain, actually moves in.  God’s desire for us to live with him is so great that the Creator will move into – take up residence in – the creation.

The question, though, is why does God do that?

Did God need a house?  Was he lacking in wood and marble, in silver and gold, in incense and offerings?  No, not at all. 

God takes up residence in the temple, just as he takes up residence here, in this holy house of worship, for our sake.  God knows we were created with the gift and curiosity to try and understand the world – after all, that’s God’s Image in us.  God chooses to be present and worshipped in visible, physical ways because he knows we have trouble perceiving what we cannot see; he knows that our perspective is limited to what is right there, in front of our eyes.

You may have heard it preached before that the good news of the new covenant is that God is not contained in a temple far away in Jerusalem.  And that’s true – God is not contained in any box made by human hands.  But the amazing truth we read in scripture is that God is willing to take up residence among us. 

God is not a philosophy; God is not a feeling; God is not a theology or rules or a set of right answers to rhyme off.  God is alive; God is someone we can know; God wants us to live with him, and he’s willing to do what it takes to make that happen – even taking up residence within four walls if that’s what it takes for us to experience the reality of His presence.

The Problem of Perspective

But even God moving in and being really present in a house in each neighbourhood is not enough for many to see and accept his presence.

Remember back in the Garden of Eden?  The temptation offered by the serpent wasn’t to disobey God – that’s not enticing at all.  The temptation that got Eve to eat that fruit was the temptation to trust her own perspective.  That’s enticing.  The serpent didn’t say “go ahead, disobey God!”.  The serpent said “that fruit looks nice, doesn’t it?”  “Looks like a good fruit, don’t you think?”  “God said it would kill you, but it doesn’t look like it would kill you, does it?”  “Maybe it’s so good, God just doesn’t want you to have it”. 

The temptation that led to sin invading the world was the temptation to limit the truth to our own perspective.  The temptation to think that we have all the facts instead of trusting that God knows the big picture and, even when it doesn’t make much sense to us, He is working things together for the good of those who love him.

God took up residence in Solomon’s temple, to be the crowning glory of His people, now established in the promised land.  God moved into those four walls, not that they contained him, but so that his people would have a place to come to be assured of his presence; just as we have a bedroom for sleeping and a kitchen for eating, so too the faithful would have a place of prayer, a place where, each year, each month, each week, they could gather, choose to see things from God’s perspective, repent of all the times we did and said or acted – or made excuses – based on our own perspectives, and in that place know the truth that God wants us to live with him so much that he makes himself present even in our messy, complicated lives.

But the temptation to trust our own perspective is always there, the temptation to falsely believe that our understanding, our point of view is the full story, rather than trusting in God’s big picture.

It’s an attractive temptation, and closer to home than we like to admit.  In the Gospel today, Jesus says that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood abides in him.  At the last supper Jesus says ‘this bread is my body; this cup is my blood; when you gather, do this to recall my covenant with you’.  Once again, God’s desire is to be with us in a tangible way, for us to know he is present with us around the table in the act of taking our daily bread.  But how much ink and energy has been wasted; how much blood and how many lives were lost in the wars at the Reformation because we look from our perspectives and say “how can God fit in a piece of bread?”.

But the point of the temple or the Eucharist was never to contain God, to mark his limits.  It’s the total opposite; if we see it from God’s perspective, the point is that God loves you so much that he wants to live in these four walls for you to come and visit; he wants to sit with you at the table; and he wants to take up residence in you, to guide and direct and comfort you from the inside out.

Discipleship and “Checking Boxes”

I’ve had lots of conversations lately about the day-to-day actions of our faith.  Since that discipleship training day back in June, a number of you have been experimenting with morning or evening prayer, with spending a few minutes reading scripture each day, or taking on a new role in outreach and caring for one another, or even reframing your care for those around you as an act of obedience to the Lord.

As we prepare to embark on a parish-wide year of bible reading with The Story, it’s important for us to remember that, when we see things from God’s perspective, even little actions will have ripple effect far bigger than we can imagine from our point of view.

Solomon preaches at the dedication of the temple that if a foreigner – that is, someone outside of God’s covenant – even turns toward God’s house, God will hear and act.  If one of the faithful – you or I – comes to seek God’s mercy and comfort, it is given. 

Now think about that.  A stranger, walking down the other side of the street, depressed and anxious on the way to work, hears the bell at 8am, sees the church and says “if there’s even a God, I need help.”  That’s an act of faith – yes, a tiny one – but it’s one that God hears as he continues his work of helping her to align her will with his.

It’s just as Paul tells us today to do the work of putting on the armour of faith.  Not fall into it, not wake up and magically find yourself fully dressed, but do the action, put it on.  Wear the truth, strap on righteousness, know the peace that comes from being ready to trust God’s big picture rather than your own perspective, and faithfully pick up the gift of faith as it is strengthened by the Spirit dwelling in you and the Word of God going into your eyes and ears each day.

My friends, God can’t be contained in a box… or a temple, or a church, or a set of rules, or a piece of bread, or a theology book, or a plan for discipleship.  But God wills to dwell with us in real and visible ways.  We’re not checking boxes or doing empty rituals; we’re taking God at his word!  When he says “gather in my presence”, gather in his presence.  When he says “read my Word”, let’s do it.  When he says “if you serve one of the least of these, you’ve served me”, let’s serve him.  When he says “repent, and agree to see things as they really are”, confess and change your way. When he says “go out and invite them in”, let’s roll out the welcome mat, and when he says “trust me, I’m with you always”, let’s learn to take him at his word, even when we can’t – no, especially when we can’t see what he’s doing, or where he’s leading, or what he has in store.  It’s in those moments, standing on the promises of God, that we truly learn that God’s will is to be with us here and now, so that we can be with Him forever.

To God be the glory.  Amen.

The Virgin Mary: Someone we can relate to!

Today the Church invites us to remember, celebrate, and learn from the life and witness of St. Mary the Virgin, the mother of the Lord.  Now I suspect, as in most Anglican circles, some of us come with a strong affection for the blessed virgin, while others are perhaps even a little uncomfortable with the mention of her name, as it brings to mind all the reasons why Christians need to be careful not to become obsessed with saints to the point that it gets in the way of worshipping God and serving our neighbours.

But, you should know me well enough by now to know that I believe there’s always real value in digging in, getting underneath those assumptions, those things that we bring with us when we hear scripture, and instead open our ears and our hearts to hear what God is saying in his Word.

If Jesus is born a man like us, his mother must be a woman like us.

The fundamental reason that we celebrate this day is the simple-yet-mind-blowing fact that we believe that Mary, an ordinary, faithful woman growing up in an ordinary home, going about her business of loving God and loving her neighbour, became the God bearer, became the one who bore Jesus Christ, the one though whom all things were made.  God – supreme over all the universe – loved us so much that he entered into a young woman’s belly for our sake; not unlike the way he continues to be present among us, becoming our heavenly food and drink for our sake (but that’s another sermon for another day).

The point is, I think we need to strip away some of the ‘hype’ about the virgin Mary, so that our eyes can be open to the shocking extent of God’s love for us.

As Christians, we believe that God became man; he became one of us.  He didn’t become like one of us.  He became one of us, except – being God – he was able to do what we could not, and resist the power of sin, and forge a new path for us to follow.

If we strip away the pious romanticism about Mary and the holy family, I believe we’ll find great comfort.  We’ll find a saviour who doesn’t just know about our griefs and burdens and struggles,[1] but who knows them, who has seen them first hand, not just from his throne in glory, but in the dusty streets and in the joy and tears in the faces of those around him.

Mary’s Messy Life

If we stick to the words of scripture, we’ll see that Mary isn’t all that different than any of us.  And that’s the point – God didn’t choose some super-human heroine to rub our messy lives in our faces; not at all!  No, Jesus came to share our lives, to walk alongside us, to give us an example, and to reach out in love to lift our heavy burdens as we learn to take them off our worn-down shoulders, and share our yoke with the one who holds it all together and offers to lift us up if we’ll follow where he leads.

As we look at Mary from the pages of scripture, we see someone who looks familiar.

She’s a young woman who loves God, who trusts in His promises, but like any of us, is still shocked to find out that she has a role to play in God’s plan.

She finds herself saying “yes” to God in a difficult situation – a situation that throws everything that she and her parents have planned for her into a tailspin.  As much as Christmas pageants tend to gloss over the situation, she finds herself as the talk of the town, pushing her fiancé’s patience to the limit as he tries to distance himself from the scandal.  And it’s no small thing – we usually skip over those verses in Luke 1 where, after Mary conceives the Lord (and, as Matthew tells us, after word gets out), she leaves town in a hurry, leaves her parents’ house and Joseph’s family, and this pregnant woman travels 160 km by foot to her cousin’s house in Hebron.[2]  She makes that hard journey home three months later, just in time to head out with Joseph once more to Bethlehem to do paperwork for the census when she’s nearly full term.

Mary’s life wasn’t the romanticized one of Christmas cards and the soft, flowing fabrics of statues and artwork.

She was a busy mother of what might have been a blended family.  The gospels tell us that Jesus has at least 6 siblings, four brothers and at least two sisters.  Unlike most people in that era, Mary didn’t always have the support of her extended family.  We know they moved around: they moved all the way to Egypt with a toddler before returning to Nazareth.  And, as much as 17th century art work has given us the image of Joseph and Jesus working in a woodshop making furniture, what we do know from the actual words of scripture is that Mary’s husband has a skilled trade working in construction.  We know from historical sources that there was a shortage of construction workers in the early first century because of all the Roman construction in the area, so for Joseph to earn that reputation, chances are that he was like so many working in the mines, or the oil patch, or foreign workers harvesting in our fields today, leaving home for work during the construction season, and leaving Mary home with the kids to make ends meet until the next payday. 

Jesus knows what it is to grow up in a working home, where parents are making costly and painful sacrifices, facing loneliness and difficult decisions.

I also feel for Mary because I know what it is to have a son who speaks his mind, who tends to see things as they really are, and who is discontent with the simple, expected answers to life’s questions.  We know, from age 12, Jesus was teaching others to read the scriptures properly.  I can only imagine what that was like at home, or what sort of reports got sent home from Sabbath School at the synagogue.  And, of course, we know from John 7 that Jesus and his brothers didn’t always get along as adults, so we can well imagine what Mary went through when they were growing up.

And then it would seem, too, that somewhere along the way, by the time Jesus is ministering publicly, Mary is widowed, standing alone with the other women at the cross watching, helpless, as her own son dies, having pushed the limits of love, having done what is right rather than what is expected, as He finally accomplished that purpose as Messiah that she had secretly carried in her heart since the day the angel visited over three decades before.

Jesus knows what it’s like to test a parents’ patience; to see a family struggling to hold it together; to see relationships strained; to know real heartbreak, and the pain of loss.

Scripture paints a picture of Mary that isn’t extraordinary or super-human, but instead looks a lot like us.  And that’s good news, because God didn’t come for those who have their lives all put together; he came to save those who were perishing, to lift up those who were worn down, to carry the burdens and heal those who are willing to be honest and ask for the help that Christ offers to all.

Mary, full of grace.

Mary needs to be like us, so that her Son, Jesus, can be like us.

And yet the angel says “Hail, favoured one”, “Hail, full-of-grace”, “Hail, you who are blessed among women”.[3]

And, so I ask, is that grace, that favour in the Lord’s sight earned because of any special thing that Mary has done?

No. The good news about Mary’s life and witness is that it could be any of us.  Like all of the saints throughout history, Mary did nothing to deserve her part in God’s plan.  Mary certainly wasn’t full of her own grace; she received the grace of her saviour as much as anyone else.

Rather, Mary finds favour in God’s sight, she’s blessed among women because, as God calls, her heart is open, she trusts His promises, and she says yes.

She’s one of only two people named in the Creed – Mary says “yes” to God, Pontius Pilate says “no”. 

Called to be saints.

And so, whatever mess or stress or pain we find ourselves in – and let’s be honest, we’ve all got stress, and we’ve all got a bit of a mess – Jesus knows what it’s all about.  He’s been in a small town, he’s been in a messy family, nothing you’ve got is going to surprise Him.  So put your trust in him, and take him at his word.  Let him carry your burden with you; put his yoke around your neck and let his strong back pull you along when you’re at the end of your rope. 

Because, as the body of Christ gathered here, we too are called to be saints.

Like Mary, we’re not saints because our lives are perfect; the saints are those who say yes to God even when they’re not

So, my friends, whatever you’re facing and whatever you’re carrying, as we come to pray, as we confess things done and left undone, as we approach the Lord’s table to say “Amen” – “so be it” – and take the Lord’s body into our bellies, let’s take this opportunity to say “yes”, to hand it over, and to trust in the one who has been there, and who reaches out in love – even Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

[1] Isaiah 53

[2] Luke 1:39-40 says Mary went with haste to see Zechariah and Elizabeth in the hill country of Judah.  Zechariah was a priest (Luke 1:5-7).  Joshua 21:10-11 identifies “Hebron, in the hill country of Judah” as the city of the priests.

[3] Luke 1:28

The dangerous lie of self-reliance

We live in a world based on personal choices.  Our society is based on the freedom to choose: we can decide what we want to be when we grow up, and work towards it; we can choose who we want to marry; more than ever before, we can choose where we want to live, as families are spread out across the world; we can choose our leaders at the ballot box; we can choose which church we attend, or not to attend at all.  Modern society is founded on the idea of choice.  Even when it comes to controversial topics, the virtue we hear spread far and wide is the ‘virtue’ of minding your own business.

Now don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of benefits that come from our freedom to make decisions.  As Kristina and I celebrate 10 years of marriage this week, I’m reminded that even 60 years ago, our marriage would have been practically impossible: she was raised a Roman Catholic, and I’m an Anglican; it’s not that long ago in Newfoundland that the idea of ‘intermarriage’ would have been completely unthinkable.  Or, even my freedom to answer God’s call to ministry: it wasn’t that long ago that the son of a fisherman simply couldn’t choose to attend university, let alone find himself kneeling before a bishop to present himself for ordination.  There’s a lot of good that comes with the ability to choose.

But there’s a flipside to that, one that we rarely think about.

As “mind your business” has been drilled into us by the world, we’ve learned along the way that my life is my business.  We’ve learned that, just as we’re free to make choices, we’re supposed to depend on ourselves to carry them out.  And, when things don’t work out, what are we taught to do?  Forge ahead, making lemonade out of lemons.

The flipside of the freedom to choose is the lie that life is meant to be every person for themselves.

Building one another up.

One of the most radical – and, sadly, under-emphasized – ideas of Christianity is that it’s not each to his own, come hell or high water.  The radical truth that we proclaim is that your efforts won’t secure your success; that it isn’t up to us to pull ourselves up and dust ourselves off; that the most important choice we can make is to surrender our supposed freedom to the Lord and accept the shared life of the Body of Christ.

But it’s a hard lesson, isn’t it? The best choice we can ever make is to stop relying on ourselves alone.

This lie of self-reliance, the flip-side of everyone having to mind their own business, is truly heartbreaking.  If our eyes are open, we see the effects even here in our little church.

Every week… no, closer to every day that I walk around town ‘in uniform’, I run into hurting people who come straight out and say “oh, you’re the minister?  I can’t come to church until I get my life back together”, or, “you wouldn’t want someone like me in your church”.

It’s gut-wrenching.  There’s all sorts of explanations, but a big part of it is the lie that we have to put ourselves back together.  It’s the downside of a world that tells us to “mind your own business”.

Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself: what’s the instinct when you’ve had a bad week, when something embarrassing or sensitive has happened, or when word gets out that your marriage is in a rough place, or money is too tight, or you had too much to drink and made a fool of yourself, or it turns out that your child isn’t a model of good character?  Our instinct – taught over and over again by a society built on self-sufficiency – is to hide away.

At those very moments when God has provided the Church, the Body of Christ, and instructed us very plainly that we are to carry one another’s burdens, not just to rejoice with those who rejoice, but to weep with those who are hurting and, when someone finds themselves beat up and lying in the ditch of life, to bind them up and nurse them back to health. The twin lies of minding your own business and relying on no one but yourself lead us to reject the fellowship and ministry of the Church… at least, we say, until we straighten ourselves out first.

As we read this morning in Ephesians, the message of the Gospel is the exact opposite, almost uncomfortably so.

“walk… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” (It’s as if Paul knows it’s going to be messy!)  “… There is one body and one Spirit…” and the work of the ministry that we offer to each other isn’t from a place of ‘having it all together’.  No, what does Paul write?  He says that on our own, we’re immature, “tossed two and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” and by craftiness and deceit.[1] 

On the one hand: ouch!  That’s pretty harsh, especially as those raised to fend for ourselves: Paul says we’re immature and easily tossed around.  But if we can get away from that lie of self-reliance, we’ll find that the message of the Gospel, that God’s plan, is for us to be knit together, a family where every person – broken though we may be – has a place and the opportunity to both build one-another up and to be built up by the ministry of God through others.

Just look at that last line from today’s epistle: “when each part is working properly” – joined to Christ, the head – it “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love”.

Do we build ourselves up?  Do we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps?  Does the person lying beaten in the ditch have to clean himself up first and take a shower before the Samaritan can bring him to hospital?  Does the family carrying the burdens of life need to get their act together before they come to  my office?  Does the drunk on the bench at the four-way need to get sober before she’s welcome at a recovery meeting?  No!

Sure, it’s insulting, but Paul’s pretty clear: you can’t build yourself up, you’ll only be tossed about and blown around by lies.  What we need is to come together, all of us as imperfect followers of Jesus, and the result is that we’ll all be built up together, better than we could ever be alone.

It takes that harsh realization that yes, all I once held dear, and everything I’ve tried, everything I’ve built my life upon, at worst it backfired; at best, it’s going to be worthless because I can’t take it with me.  It takes the bold move to go against everything the world teaches, and instead of putting on a brave face and listing the things that make you a “good person”, admitting that the greatest thing you can do is make the choice to surrender, to proclaim not yourself – successes and failures – but proclaim the love of Jesus, and to say together with all the Body that Christ alone is the sure foundation, our only strength and stay amid the waves and winds of life.

Just imagine if word got out that the Church was the place to go when life is rough, not the place to hide away from until you get your life together or make yourself “good enough”.  Just imagine if word got out that the Church was a hospital for sinners, where our business isn’t “minding your business”, but carrying one another, lifting one another up, working together as apprentices of Jesus our Master, as we are built up together.

It’s a choice.

As great as it is to live in a world of choices, a world where we can choose to be what we want to be, it means we have to be honest about the shocking message of the Gospel. 

More than ever before, we’re told to seek what makes us happy; we’re told to find fulfilment and to find our purpose; to be mindful and seek our well-being, to satisfy that inner hunger.  We’re not unlike that crowd in the Gospel, who had their bellies filled with loaves and fishes, so they showed up the next day looking to get their bellies filled again.[2]

But the choice of turning to Jesus, the choice of coming into the embrace of the Church isn’t one of choosing what fills you up or makes you feel good.  It’s the stunning act of saying “yes, I’m free to choose; I’m free to go it alone.  But, I choose to come as I am – not as I hope to be, I choose to surrender, I choose to give up chasing what fills me up or makes me happy, and instead I offer myself as a servant, to begin the work of being built up by the Body of Christ, as I also let myself be used by Christ to build up others.

That’s the key to growing into maturity as followers of Jesus, of becoming all that God wants us to be to do the work he has given us to do.  And, in a world of choices, yes it starts with a choice: the earth-shattering, life-changing choice to stop going it alone, to admit that, yes, as harsh as it sounds, left to my own devices, I will be blown around by the lies of the world, so I choose the sure foundation that is faith in Jesus.

Relying on ourselves and following our bellies will leave us tossed about and empty.  But whoever turns to Jesus will never hunger or thirst, and will find themselves built into something greater than we could ever ask or imagine. To God be the glory. Amen.

[1] Ephesians 4:1-16

[2] Luke 6:24-35

Our National Inheritance: a mess.

May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

On this Sunday closest to Canada Day, we’re right to notice the difference in tone as our nation begins to recognize the human cost of securing worldly power.  As Christians, we’re to acknowledge the authority of government,[1] and should rightly be thankful for the widespread peace, freedom, and prosperity that we enjoy as Canadians – things that so many of our brothers and sisters around the world can only dream of. 

Yet, our Christian duty requires us to flee from any blind patriotism.  As St. Paul instructs the Church, we’re to see ourselves as dual-citizens or even ‘resident aliens’; we proclaim in the Creed that even our own country of Canada won’t last forever, but like everything else will come under the judgement of Christ, where the question isn’t whether or not we stood proudly and waved this or that flag, but whether we understood ourselves as needing the mercy that only God can give, whether we sought to be faithful with what we’ve been given, and when we fell short, whether we admitted it, stood back and looked at the situation from God’s perspective, and did our part to change course. 

Our National Inheritance.

Chief Cadmus Delorme of the Cowessess First Nation had this to say when the bodies of 781 children were found on their territory.

“You know, in 2021, we all inherited this.  Nobody today created residential schools. Nobody today created the Indian Act.  Nobody today created the Sixties Scoop.[2] But we all inherited this.  And if we want to say we’re proud Canadians, then we will accept the beautiful country we have today, and we will accept what we all inherited…”

Chief Cadmus Delorme, Cowessess First Nation

While the truth is very uncomfortable, as Christians, we should be familiar with the idea that yes, the effects of sin can be inherited – as pain, suffering, disadvantage, worldly wealth and power are passed from generation to generation.  We believe that even the most beautiful, innocent-looking baby isn’t born neutral, with a blank slate to choose their future; but we’re all bent inward and – left to our own devices – will seek our own glory and our own good at the expense of others.

No, we don’t bear the guilt for the sins of those who have gone before; but we do inherit the mess.  And if one thing should be absolutely clear from scripture, it’s that if we try to cling to things of the past in order to change them, we’ll lose sight of the present and future; we can’t undo the past.  No, rather, our task is to be faithful to the Lord’s calling to imitate Him as His disciples – to be faithful with the mess we’ve inherited.

An Inherited Mess.

On first glance, if you flip back to your lesson from 2 Samuel 5,[3] it might look as though this lesson displays a day of national pride.  It’s the coronation of a new king, a king beloved by the people and confirmed by the word of the Lord.  A wonderful record of the triumphant history of a king who restored and rebuilt the capital at Jerusalem, rebuilding its walls and restoring its glory.

But this is where knowledge of the whole story of scripture is important.  David, my friends, inherited a mess.

When God led his people out of Egypt and into the promised land, He never intended for them to have a king like other nations.  Kings make laws; kings decide a nation’s destiny.  No, the Lord would be Israel’s king, and instead, they would be led by judges, those men and women who had the task of reading God’s Word and interpreting it faithfully to the situation the people found themselves in.  Whether it was a war, a property dispute, a case of divorce, or the building of a new city, the judges’ role was to decide whether the actions of those involved showed love for God and love for each neighbour as yourself, as illustrated by all of God’s instructions.

But the people grew tired of that pretty quickly.  You see, it’s hard to become powerful in the sight of your enemies when you’re loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It’s hard to amass a goodly inheritance for your children when you’re also concerned with loving your neighbour’s children and seeking their best interests too.  By the time Moses’ grandson was judge over Israel, the people north of Jerusalem had realized they could do better with trade if they worshipped the idols of the Canaanites instead.  From there, the people spiraled away from seeking the Lord’s will, until finally, with the people divided, worshipping whatever they wanted, and forgetting the calling to love God and neighbour, they find themselves facing a hostile enemy.

They remember the old stories about God strengthening their great-great-grandfathers in their time of need, so they go to the house of the Lord and take the ark of the covenant – the ark containing the Law of God which they’ve neglected to read, and containing the bread of the Lord’s provision, which they’ve long since given up for favour of trusting in their own strength.  And, without seeking the Lord’s will or help, they take that central symbol of God’s love, mercy, care, and provision and march it out as a triumphant sign on the field of battle, as they conveniently claimed to be acting in the name of the Lord.  And then, much to their surprise, the Lord doesn’t come to their aid, but allows them to experience the consequences of their faithlessness.  The ark – the very symbol of the people of Israel and God’s leading them out of Egypt and into the promised land – is captured by their enemies, and they return home broken and bruised.

So, having forgotten the law and lost what they thought was a symbol of power, they chose a king – Saul, a man known for his impatience, his bravery, and his jealous – even murderous – protection of what is his.  They seek out a prophet to anoint him as king over the people of God; they don’t want someone to interpret God’s law, they want a strong man who can make new laws as he wants.  The Lord is furious, and yet, he bears patiently with those faithful few who call upon him and seek his will.  Ultimately, Saul disobeys the word of God given through the prophets, loses his faith, becomes unable to trust anyone around him, falls into despair, and takes his own life without an heir to take the throne.

David, the young shepherd that God called and equipped to serve him, inherited a real mess.  God never intended that Israel would have a human king in the first place, and yet, because of the effects of the sins of those who went before, here we are.  God never abandons us even in the worst mess that human sin can create, but rather reaches out his hand, calls us to cling to him not to whisp us away, but to give us the strength to be faithful in and through the mess, knowing that faithfulness is not just personal, but is intended to bring the good news of hope and restoration and mercy and healing and peace to our neighbours or even those who would be our enemies. 

Reconciliation: A task best done in weakness.

Being faithful in the mess is a tall order, not least because each of us are the product of part of that mess, and carry the baggage.  Though it’s not what God intended, your skin, your language, and your last name bear the weight of one side or the other of a long and complex history, a tangled web of injustice and oppression.  We bear that as our inheritance, even as we seek to be faithful.  But, you know, it’s not unlike our Lord, or any faithful prophet, who is looked at suspiciously in their hometown.  We bear the weight of that family history – they look at Jesus, the one who had healed thousands and preached at every village around, but all they wanted to see was the carpenter’s son.  Even the Lord won’t open the eyes of those who don’t want to see – but that doesn’t change the call to be faithful and do what God requires.

Rather, when it comes to reconciliation, when it comes to both the mess and the freedom, peace, and prosperity that we have inherited as Canadians, like Paul, we can say that weakness is a gift.

When we’re strong, when we’re in the spotlight, when we’re on top of the world, we could boast – no let’s be honest, we would boast in ourselves.  But, it’s in the mess; it’s in opening our eyes to the pain and disadvantage inherited by our neighbours and fellow-Canadians; it’s in experiencing not the guilt, but the weight that comes with being those who inherited one side or the other of this mess of injustice; it’s there that we learn to depend not on strength, but on grace.

“’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me”

No, not just weaknesses, but “I am content with insults, hardships, persecutions,” and, as we look at the violence that pain and anger bring on, even “calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

My fellow Canadians; my brothers and sisters in Christ; let us not look to worldly power, or prestige, or ways to quiet and bottle up pain by easy words and federal dollar signs.  We have inherited a mess; God reaches out to us – He calls out to us – where we are; and our task as dual-citizens of the Kingdom of God is to be faithful, accepting weakness as the pathway to healing and peace, as worldly power is replaced by the power of Christ, to heal and to save, as God seeks to draw all people to himself.

Love God.  Love your neighbour.  Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.  Amen.

[1] Romans 13

[2] Sixties Scoop | The Canadian Encyclopedia

[3] As it happens, a typo on a chart two months ago led to this lesson being read instead of the one actually appointed for this morning.  Never dismiss a coincidence that may be God’s providence!

God’s presence is life.

Mark 5:21-43

Once upon a time there was a freshly-ordained deacon.  She had been a convert to Christianity while she was in university, one who really dug in to understand the richness of the traditions that had been passed down through the ages, as the rich symbolism and language and ritual became tools which helped her understand the good news and the Christian life. 

One Sunday at her new parish, she was assisting the priest in getting ready for the service when a life-long member of the congregation burst in through the sacristy door.  “Is that incense?!” the older woman said.

The young deacon, having first met Jesus when she was enthralled by the rich sights, sounds, and smells of Christian worship looked up.  She was always happy to dive in and point out the many aspects of our worship tradition that draw directly upon the scriptures and shape, form, and re-focus us towards the things of eternity.  “Yes,” she said, “it’s a major feast of the church’s year, and we’ll offer incense to God at the altar, as the smoke purifies ourselves as an offering to God!”.

“I don’t care what day it is”, the parishioner said.  “I have bad asthma, and I just can’t sit up front – in my pew – if there’s going to be smoke!”

The eager young deacon heard pain and frustration in the woman’s voice.  She reached into her pocket, reaching for her stock of anointing oil.

“That must be so hard,” the young deacon said.  “But we know God still heals, and he’ll do more than we can even ask or imagine.  If it’s alright, I’d love to pray with you and anoint you, that God would heal you of your asthma.”

The parishioner turned beet red.  “No!”, she snorted.  “I don’t want to be healed – I just want you to put that smoke away so I can sit in my pew!”.

Do you want to be well?

We all need healing.  We all will need healing as, by God’s grace, the scars, pain, and trauma of broken people in a broken world are bound up, anointed, and brought back to life as both our bodies and our hearts are made more fully alive, better able to receive and reflect the life and light that God desires to share with each of us.

But, no matter what sort of healing we require, step 1 is always acknowledging that we need it.  Whether the ailment is physical, mental, spiritual, or in our relationships, we first need to realize when something isn’t as it ought to be, we need to realize that we need a power greater than ourselves to fix it, but most importantly, whether we want to heal our broken relationships, whether we want to soften and heal the calloused wounds of the past, or whether we need strength to deal with broken bodies, we have to want to be well, and be willing to make the necessary changes as we become more like God wants us to be, as even the worst afflictions that the world, the flesh, and the devil can dream up can be worked together for good, as we are conformed to the image and likeness of Christ.

Each of us here today are broken in one way or another, and the good news of Jesus is that the Church is meant to be a hospital for the afflicted, where imperfect people learn to trust in God to do what they could never do for themselves, and, where we learn to see ourselves, each other, and the world around us as they really are – creatures of God who are wholly dependent on grace.

God is not the source of our problems.

As our first lesson puts it today, and as scripture reminds us again and again, part of acknowledging our need for healing is remembering that God is not the author of death and decay. 

I think the biggest lie, the biggest deception that keeps people from accepting the healing that God offers is the lie that says “your pain is part of God’s plan”.

Don’t believe it.  “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.[1] 

Anyone who says that the awful things of this life are God’s will has been deceived, and it’s the worst kind of lie because it keeps you from what God actually has in store.

“God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.”  He does not take any pleasure in the death of a sinner, but in his unsearchable patience calls all people to repentance.[2]

God doesn’t make you sick; God doesn’t desire for people to hurt one another; God doesn’t send calamities out of nowhere to leave you scratching your head.  Just as science – and common sense – tell us that “darkness” doesn’t exist (it’s just the absence of the energy of light), and “cold” doesn’t exist (it’s just the absence of the energy of heat), death and decay are the absence of the life-giving power of God.  And while the realities of life in a sinful world mean that our bodies will die, we proclaim each and every week that even that is not the end.  Our bodies – the flesh and bone sitting there in those pews, the faithful dead planted in the resurrection garden over there, even those lost to the deep or those innocent children buried without names or markers at the hands of too many unrepentant, proud sinners preaching the hopelessly twisted gospel of power and empire – all will have new life breathed into them at the day of resurrection, as the absence of God’s life-giving presence is overcome, and we stand before him, either humbly as our friend and Father or, full of pride, we meet him as our judge. And while our bodies await that day, the faithful rest in God’s presence.

God’s presence is life.  God is not the author of death and disease; death and disease are the product of a world, of humanity that has found itself absent from God’s presence.

The Righteous One comes to the unrighteous.

The good news we read this morning is that God is not content to let us walk away.  Rather, he comes and walks among us, the Creator among the creation, patiently reaching out to those who, often through no fault of their own, are suffering as victims of a world bent on removing itself from the care of the only one who can sustain it.

I don’t know if you noticed, but Jesus, in today’s gospel, breaks the law for the sake of those he came to save. 

It was illegal for anyone to touch a woman who was discharging blood.  For 12 years this woman had to live outside the city, and her own family, her own children could not come near to hug her or hold her hand, or they would be impure until the following day.  Imagine the pain – imagine 12 years knowing not just the physical discomfort, but the mental anguish of knowing that anyone who comes near you risks becoming unclean, forbidden to worship, forbidden to take part in the life of the community.  12 years of feeling she’s worthless.  12 years of being forbidden to go to the synagogue or the temple, 12 years of being unable to go and pray with the priest and offer a sacrifice to God.

But Jesus, the fulfilment of the law, doesn’t come to bless the righteous, but to redeem the sinner.  Jesus, the Holy One, is grabbed by that desperate woman.  And does He become unclean?  No, her faith makes her well. 

And then there’s Jairus’s daughter.  It’s illegal to touch a dead body – that’s the whole point of the Good Samaritan story: it’s not that the priest and Levite were being jerks, it’s that if he wasdead, they wouldn’t be allowed into the temple.  Does Jesus leave the girl for fear of being unclean?  No – if death and decay are the absence of God, His touch brings life – even in the midst of hopeless situations.

Healing pushes us out of our comfortable places.

But, though He comes to meet us, we need to seek Him out.

Notice from the lesson where these people meet the Lord.  This woman has spent a dozen years condemned to the outskirts of town, certainly crying out to God for mercy.  But does God meet her in that place of shame?  No.  In faith, she had to step out, to come boldly into the Lord’s presence, falling on her knees to reach out in hope.  The Lord was near, but she had to leave what had become a comfortable place of coping and pity in order to receive the healing and new life that God could give.

And Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue.  He was a big deal, living in a mansion, with servants to do his bidding; not the sort of guy who came into the marketplace.  Jesus didn’t come into his comfortable house and make an appointment on this man’s busy schedule. Rather, Jairus had to leave his mansion and meet the Lord among the common people – which, I’m sure, was costly and turned some heads.

My friends: God still heals, and deep down, each and everyone of us knows something is broken, we’re not yet as we ought to be.

The Lord, the giver of life, is seeking us out.  But as comfortable – perhaps even as proud – as we sometimes become with our ailments, the first step is always acknowledging that there’s a problem, and wanting to be made well.

And then, unlike that dear woman with her asthma, we need to learn not to be comfortable with – or even proud of – the disease, death, and decay around us. We need to be willing to seek the Lord while and where he wills to be found, ready to take that humbling, costly step of faith to fall down before Jesus, knowing that His very presence – the same presence that burst the power of death and that the gates of hell could not contain – is like a candle dispelling darkness and the cold: going out to meet him isto invite life itself to overcome the power of death.

My friends, God still heals.  The Lord comes to meet us, but not in our comfortable places.  The question still is: do we want to be well?

[1] Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Jeremiah 29:11

[2] Ezekiel 18:23; 2 Peter 3:9

Sleeping through a storm.

And Jesus was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion.  Mark 4:38

Today we learn what trust looks like from God’s perspective.

This is an amazing scene.  Jesus has been travelling the countryside with his disciples, teaching in parables, healing the sick, bringing hope and mercy to those who are lost.  All along the way, we’re told, he goes into greater detail with the Twelve, sitting quietly with them in the morning or evening and answering their questions about how the parables apply to life.  And then, one night after teaching about faith – you’ll remember the parable from last week, about the gardener who spread his seeds and then did what?  …went to bed, and got up, and faithfully went about his day, and went to bed again, and kept on faithfully going about his days until one day, without him knowing how or even really when, the seed of faith had sprouted.

So it’s evening, Jesus has just shared this last parable, and then he says “guys, it’s time for us to go to the other side of the lake”.  The ‘lake’ we’re talking about here is the Sea of Galilee, 13 km across, the same lake where Peter and Andrew and James and John had fished for years.  So they hop in a sail boat and head out into the dark night, along with the other boats also catching the evening wind as it changes direction. 

So there they are, bobbing about in a little lboat on the dark waters when the gentle breeze becomes a mighty storm, so big that the waves are crashing up over the side, as they start to notice the water gathering around their sandals.  And having just been taught about faith, what do the disciples do?  They freak out.  They’re anxious.  I imagine them calling to each other, passing around buckets or basins.  Having grown up around opinionated fishermen, I imagine them calling to each other in pretty salty language about whether or not they should turn back.  We know it wasn’t their boat, so I imagine Andrew or John, one of the guys who had called in a favour from an old fishing buddy, worrying how they’re going to pay for the damage to the boat since Jesus already had them give up fishing, so it’s not like they were earning any income.

The wind is howling, the waves are crashing as chilly water creeps up over their feet, they’re yelling, they’re worried, they’re scared and probably fighting amongst themselves. 

…and where was Jesus?

Mark 4, verse 38: “and Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion”.

(Isn’t this fun?  The Bible is full of surprises!)

Now this might seem a little shocking.  It might even seem offensive, or wrong when we first think about it.  Our Lord’s closest friends aren’t just anxious – they’re fearful.  They’re scared to death: they yell at Jesus, “don’t you care that we’re going to die?!”  They’re scurrying about, talking about turning around, wondering about the damage that could be done, maybe even wishing that Jesus would get off his cushion and give them a hand bailing out the boat.

What’s going on here – in their moment of life and death anxiety, hearts pounding, wind howling, waves crashing, the Lord’s asleep! 

I think the disciples’ question is a fair one: does Jesus not care that they’re perishing?  It’s like the Israelites in the desert with Moses: “have you brought us here to die?  There were plenty of graves back where we came from!”

Yet, even through all these difficult questions, this is where we find an incredible lesson.

Faith is a gift; it’s not something we can drum up within ourselves. Like the gardener, our task is to faithfully rise and go about our day while God gives the growth.

But trust… well, that’s a different story.

Trusting God in the Storm.

Trust isn’t a gift – it’s something that must be exercised, it’s something that increases with use, just as we know that being found trustworthy with something small results in being entrusted with more.

Are the disciples’ worries and concerns and fears legitimate?  If you’re out at sea in a sailboat at night in a windstorm, you don’t have a lifeboat or any lifejackets, and your boat is taking on water, is it fair to be worried?  Yes.  The concerns are all legitimate.

But this is where trust comes in.

Whose idea was it to get into the boat this night?  Was it Peter?  Andrew?  Matthew?  No, Jesus set the course.  Jesus knew the starting point, he set the destination, and he knew the way to get there.

And, did Jesus send them off alone to fend for themselves?  No.  Now, you might say it doesn’t look like he’s very actively involved – he’s asleep on a cushion, after all.  But the question can’t be “do I see exactly how God is involved in this situation?”.  No, the question of faith is simply “is Jesus with me?”.  The same Jesus who said that when we go forth on his mission, he is with us always.  The same Jesus who said that wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he’s in their midst.  So maybe you can’t see what he’s doing – maybe it looks like Jesus is taking a nap – but is Jesus in the boat?  Yes.

So, out on the dark, stormy sea, is it right for those disciples to take action, to grab buckets, to bail out the water?  Yes, absolutely. 

Is it right for them to call out to Jesus and say ‘Lord, we need you!’.  Yes. 

Is it right for them to say ‘maybe we should turn back.’  ‘Maybe the cost is too high, who will fix the boat if this doesn’t work’.  Is it right for them to say ‘I can’t see a way out of this, this will be the death of me.’  No. 

Even when the storms are swirling around us, that’s where trust teaches us to draw the line.  My friends, hear this –

            If Jesus sets the course
            and Jesus is in the boat
            we will make it to our destination.

It’s far better to be in the raging storm with Jesus, following faithfully where he leads, headed with him and with our brothers and sisters towards the destination that our mission requires, than home, safe asleep in our beds, but going nowhere.

It’s an odd sort of encouragement, isn’t it?

How much easier it would be if, by having Jesus in the boat, we could just avoid the storms altogether.  But that’s not how it works. 

Jesus didn’t create the storm – the storm is just part of life in this fallen world, and we know Jesus didn’t purposefully make a storm come up to teach them a lesson or any other pious foolishness; after all, Jesus rebukes the storm – he wouldn’t rebuke it if it was doing what He wanted. 

But I believe Jesus knew the storm was there, he knew it was coming.  But can the storms of life separate us from the plans God has, from the destination to which he’s asking us to follow?  No, never. 

Jesus set the course.
Jesus is in the boat.
They’re going to make it to their destination.

But it requires trust.  Here’s the hard lesson: it’s not the storm that’s going to keep them from their destination.  The one who created wind and waves is with them, and He’s at peace.  The only thing going to keep them from their destination is if they give in to their fears. 

If they say “I know Jesus wanted to cross over, but this was a bad idea, lets go back”, they might try to blame it on the storm, but the decision to turn back was theirs.

If they say “I know He can walk on water; I know he can heal the sick and feed the hungry and raise the dead, but I’m scared, I’m running around franticly, and he won’t run around franticly with me”, we might blame it on the storm, but the decision to turn back is ours.

Rather, the question we can ask is: “are we going where Jesus leads?”  Did He set the course, or was this my plan?  If it’s my plan, turn back! 

The question we can ask is, simply, “is Jesus with us?”.  Am I going my own way?  Do I have the body of Christ, my brothers and sisters, carrying this burden, facing this storm with me?  Have I invited my brothers or sisters in Christ to walk with me, knowing that when two or three are together, Jesus is there; or, am I trying to face this alone, with no room for Jesus or anyone else?  If the only one you can trust is yourself, then yes, turn back.

You see, trust is knowing that the one who set the destination and is going with you on the way will complete the good work that has begun.  He will guard us, guide us, keep us, and feed us; he will guide the future as he has the past – because, really, no matter how anxiously we flail about, who else can be our helper?  If the waves are going to crash through the side of your boat, your little bucket isn’t worth trusting in.  Our only hope – in life and in death – is that we are not our own, but belong to God; and if we’re in the boat that he chose, on the course that he set, and he’s journeying with us, we don’t need to fear the storm.

Not just forgetting fear.

But this is not just about ignoring the storm, or bottling up our fears.  We are disciples.  We are the apprentices learning from our Master. 
And what is the goal of the Christian life?  The imitation of Christ.

“Jesus awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” and the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

As we grow into the image and likeness of Christ, as our anxious mind is transformed by following God’s will, as our hard hearts are replaced with tender hearts of flesh, we not only trust God’s destination, but we, too, will learn to be at peace – maybe even able to sleep through! – the storms life throws at us.  Even more, when we trust the course He has set and are sure of his presence with us, we will learn, with Christ, to simply echo his voice which settles the storm and brings peace.

Have you met those people?  People facing incredible hardship, real pain, maybe even those for whom the dark clouds of death are closing in.  Yet, through a life of faith, they’re not afraid.  They know that Jesus set the course they’re following; they know that Jesus is with them; they trust they’ll make it safely to their destination, and that, my friends, opens the door to the peace that passes all understanding – peace that makes no human sense, apart from the sure and certain faith that God will complete the good work that he has started.

And Jesus was asleep on a cushion.  Should we fear?  No.  Put your trust in God, and remember:

If Jesus sets the course
and Jesus is in the boat
we will make it to our destination.

A sleepy gardener?

Mark 4:26-34

How many times do we read in scripture that the good news of the Kingdom of God is like a seed being scattered or a vine or a tree being planted?  After sheep and shepherds, those farming analogies are among the most common in God’s Word.  They’re familiar, they’re accessible, they’re easy enough to understand – and yet, they teach lessons that it can take a lifetime to put into practice.

Gardening Lessons from Jesus.

“The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground”; ok, that part is easy enough to understand.  But listen to what comes next: the gardener works hard, waking early and going to bed late, carefully fertilizing the soil and pulling weeds?  Or, does the gardener hire some servants to watch the field, scaring away the ravens and squirrels who come to snatch the seeds for a quick snack?

No.  Look at what comes next: Seeds are scattered on the ground… and “he sleeps and rises night and day; and the seed sprouts and then it grows, but he doesn’t know how.”

This guy plants his seeds… and then what?  He goes to bed!  He gets up the next day and then what?  He goes about his day, and then goes to bed again.  He repeats this, day after day, and then – he doesn’t quite know how – one day, he looks out and, lo and behold, the seeds have turned into plants.  And Jesus says “the Kingdom of God is like that”.  Alright then!  It’s amazing – and there’s a central, but uncomfortableidea here about faith. 

The point that Jesus is making here is one that we hear throughout scripture: faith is a gift from God.[1]  At the end of the day, faith is not something that we can drum up within ourselves.  It isn’t something that we can search out and satisfy, as though if I just learned a few more things or could figure a couple more things out, I would know the answers, I wouldn’t have to trust and believe anymore.  No, faith is a gift.  We can prepare the soil for planting; once the seed has sprouted, we can water it and tend it, support it if it becomes weak, fertilize it to make it fruitful.  But think about it – we can’t make a seed sprout.  The best we can do is stay out of the way and let God give the growth. 

Gifts make us uncomfortable.

Now, unfortunately for us, we’re raised in a culture that isn’t good at receiving gifts.  Children get gifts, and we teach them to say thank you, but as we grow, we’re taught by our families, in our schools, in the workplace, we learn across our society to replace gifts with hard work and earned rewards.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that’s all bad.  But, as adults in our part of the world, what free gifts do we receive?

We work hard for the things we get – and even if our work offers us a bonus, it’s something we’ve earned, not a gift, right?  Sure, we send cards to one another; we might send some flowers when someone is sick; those who bake might trade their specialities with their friends – dropping off a pie to a friend, who next week brings over a loaf of homemade bread.  But, beyond that, I think most of us are well-trained to be uncomfortable with gifts.  We say “you shouldn’t have”, and sometimes I think we mean it, because now we have to come up with a way to return the favour!

We like to be self-sufficient.  We like to work hard and earn what we have, and sure, we’ll share and be generous out of what we’ve earned, but none of us like the thought of being on the receiving end of someone else’s charity. 

The big message, though, is that if God is our Father, if we truly are his children, if you and I really are Jesus’s baby brother or sister, adopted into God’s family and learning the family values to take up our role in the family business, then we really are like kids on Christmas morning – we need to be able to accept the gifts given freely, given with no expectation for anything but love in return, gifts above and beyond what we could ever muster out of our own strength or savings.

That’s the great message in today’s lesson: the gardener knows that the soil had to be prepared; he knows that plants need water and food and light and nurture.  But the one thing he can’t give the seed is growth.  All that gardener can do is go about his life, go about his days, sleeping and rising, trusting that God will use the soil that was prepared and that, when the time is right, those seeds will sprout, and then that gardener can faithfully tend them as they grow.

Faith, not just belief.

My friends, faith is like that.  More often than not, we need to get out of the way; we need to go about our lives as children of God, one step at a time, one day at a time; we need to lie down and rest, and get up and do what need to be done, but let God give the growth he has in store for each of us.

But it’s hard, isn’t it?  It’s hard to take life one step at a time, to simply go to sleep when night comes, and get up and go where God leads when the next day dawns. 

We like to have a plan; we like to know what the next steps are; we like to know what we have to do to make the next thing happen, because we’re so well trained to want to earn what we have rather than accept it as a gift.

And we’re not alone in that mistake.

Think of Abraham – God told him he would be the father of many nations.  Did Abraham believe what God said?  Yes!  But what did Abraham do next?  He looked at his wife, said, wow, she’s old, she’s not going to give me a son, so he took matters into his own hands and had a baby with his servant.  Abraham believed God, but he didn’t have faith… he wasn’t yet willing to let God give the growth.

Or what about Peter?  He sees Jesus walking on the water and says, “if you’re really God, let me come and join you out there!”.  Jesus says, “yes, ok, come out and stand with me”.  Sounds great!  Peter takes that first step, obeying the Lord’s voice, and then he remembers that people aren’t supposed to float, and what happens?  …He starts to sink and needs to be pulled up to keep from drowning.  Peter believed, but his own mind, his own limited view of how the world works got in the way of the growth that God was trying to give him.

Or what about the apostles feeding the thousands?  The people are out on the countryside, being fed with the words of life from the Lord himself, when they feel their bellies growling.  Yes, the Lord is letting the crippled walk, and healing the blind, and opening the ears of the deaf, and casting out illness and depression and madness… the Lord is giving hope and freedom from anxiety and despair, the Lord is changing lives, but we missed our afternoon snack, so what will we ever do?  Ye of little faith, right?  The one who heals your infirmities and gives strength in your weakness and knows your heart certainly knows that you’re hungry.  They’ll trust God in the miracles, but doubt that God knows that they need their daily bread.

It’s one thing to believe.  But, like the farmer, who takes his life one moment, one step, one day at a time, trusting that yes, the seeds will sprout, sometimes we just need to get out of the way and let God’s gift of faith take root in your life.

The seeds were planted.  There’s no need to sit there, staring anxiously at the dirt, wondering what will happen next.  How ridiculous!  There’s also no need to anxiously plan what needs to happen next – there’s no weeding to be done, no seedlings to be staked or thinned – sometimes, as incredibly hard as it is, our task is to simply be still, and know that He is God.  Don’t try to force his hand, to jump the gun like Abraham, or squash an opportunity with doubts like Peter, because I can guarantee that God’s way is going to be far more spectacular than anything you or I can cook up.

Thank God He’s Persistent!

…that’s hard sometimes.  Well, no, let’s be honest: it’s always hard.  Being still, waiting on God, it goes against everything that feels right, it goes against all the things that feel productive.

But that’s the only way it can be real faith. 

St. Paul says in Romans that “hope that is seen is not real hope”.  If I know what is going to happen next, if I can tell you the next three steps that it takes to realize God’s plan for my life, then we must agree that isn’t hope – that’s planning.  If I know my action today will result in God’s action tomorrow, that’s not a gift of faith given freely from my gracious Father – that’s a negotiation, and God doesn’t work that way!

But, you know what?  God is a very persistent giver of his gifts.

Out behind my greenhouse I have a little vegetable garden.  There was a little green rhubarb plant there from when someone had a garden there years ago, one that had survived years of being run over by a lawnmower.  Well, it was right in the way of where I wanted to extend my beds. And I picked up two nice red rhubarb plants at Northern, so you know what I did?  I ran right over that old green rhubarb plant with the tiller – I didn’t want it, and it was in the way, so I, in my wisdom, plowed it under.

But you know what?  (And you can go out behind the Rectory and check!)  Right there, between two potato stalks, there’s two rhubarb stalks with big dark green leaves.

God gives the growth – sometimes even after we’ve done our best to tear down and undo what he has planned for our lives.

We need to be still, we need to let God give the growth, and not worry about what that will look like. 

We’ve died with Christ, planted in the ground; and we’ll rise with Christ to new life.[2]  When does the seed become a plant?  The gardener doesn’t know – the faithful gardener just goes to sleep, rises, one day at a time, and waits for the Lord to do the transformation.

But one thing is sure – at some point, without us even knowing, God takes that dry, lifeless, rock-hard shell of a seed and turns it into something tender and green and lively – full of growth, full of potential to grow into something that gives food and shade, and produces thousands more seeds to be scattered across the ground. 

I don’t know – you don’t know – when that dry, calloused part of your life might sprout.  But the good news is this: if we get our plans, and our excuses, and our doubts out of the way, if you let God give the growth, even the hardest callouses and the deepest wounds will be softened and healed, and His strength – made perfect in our weaknesses – will grow into something glorious, for His glory, and your salvation.[3]  Thanks be to God.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Peter 1:1, Philippians 1:29; Acts 3:16, and I’d include the hundreds of Old Testament references to “I have chosen you”.

[2] 2 Corinthians 5:14-17

[3] For it is by faith that we are saved.  And faith is a gift from God, that none may boast.

Life in the Spirit: “They must be drunk!”

Read Acts 2.

Do you remember the first time the Bible really made you think?

The first time you were sitting in church, following along, and then something in the reading really catches you off-guard, makes you say “huh, what’s that about?”, and you go home thinking about it, or looking it up, or texting your priest to say “what’s up with that reading today?” (and, seriously, I don’t know any priest who doesn’t get excited by that kind of call or text!).

I remember the first time that happened to me.

I was 10.  Me and my best friend from school, Adam, were the servers at communion, sitting up at the front of the church in our white robes, doing our best to sit still and look like we were paying attention so that our moms wouldn’t give us a hard time after church. 

And it was Pentecost, like it is today.  And the reading, like today, was from Acts 2.  I remember it so clearly: we were sitting there, following along with the lesson printed in the bulletin, since one of us had to get the cross ready for the procession at the Gospel before the lesson was over.  And then we got to those most remarkable Bible verses: Acts 2, verse 13: “And some people made fun of them and said, “they have had too much wine”. 

For us 10-year-old boys, that verse caught our attention.  Eyes open wide, glancing at each other like “did you hear that?”.  They’re talking about having too much wine – in church!  With that wonderfully immature humour that little boys have, it struck us as pretty funny.  Sure, you know, our parents drink wine on Friday night when they’re playing cards and we’re watching Star Wars and playing Lego downstairs… but that’s not something they talk about on Sunday morning! 

And then, with all of that racing through our minds, it was followed with that amazing (but rarely quoted) verse of scripture, Acts 2:15: St. Peter stands up and says, “these people aren’t drunk, it’s only nine in the morning!”.

That one struck Adam as funny as he let out a little “ha!” and the woman reading – one of the, let’s say, more experienced and more stern Sunday School teachers – swivelled around to look at him; and let’s just say that I was the sort of 10-year-old who might be described as giggly, as her spinning around like an owl made me burst out in laughter.

Needless to say, we both got a good talking-to from our moms that morning.

But those verses stuck with me, nearly two and a half decades later.

The story of Pentecost is the day when God does something in the lives of the followers of Jesus that causes the rest of the world to look at them and say “you’re drunk!”, there’s no other explanation.  To which Peter, always one who had a certain way with words, responds, “we’re not drunk… it’s only 9am!”.

Now of course, while scripture affirms that wine and beer are gifts from God to make the heart glad, we’ll also agree with scripture that drunkenness – putting aside wisdom and sober-mindedness and making yourself powerless to worldly passions – is a problem, particularly when it becomes a tool used by pain and hurt and shame to wear in an easy path to destruction.  That’s certainly another topic, one we’ll talk about another day.

But today, I want to think about that reaction: when the whole world looks at the followers of Jesus and simply can’t figure it out; they look at what God is doing in the lives of his people and say, “what’s going on here?  This makes no sense.  Who would live like this?  Who would act like this?  They must be drunk!”.

Just imagine a church where the way of life that God inspired in us was so remarkably different than the ways of the world that people looked at us, at the way we live, and at the way we love and serve one another and are simply astonished, scratching their heads, and saying “what’s going on here!?”, “why are these people acting this way?”.

The Work of the Spirit.

As we read in today’s Gospel, before Jesus’ crucifixion, he explains to them that, just as He and the Father are one and the Father sent the Son, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, and the Son sends the Spirit to enlighten and guide those who follow Jesus on the path of life.[1]

The Spirit, translated in English as our Advocate and our Helper, is called a word in New Testament Greek that essentially means “lawyer”, one who stands alongside the person making a defense.  Our Lord sent the Holy Spirit to be our legal counsel – to encourage us when the right course of action is to admit our faults and ask for mercy, and to strengthen us to stand firm when we are being faithful.  As Jesus says, “it’s to our advantage” – we’re better off – to have the Spirit with us, making us aware of sin, righteousness, and judgment”; it wasn’t God’s plan to leave us with and the endless and perfect counsels of God to figure out on our own, no, it’s far better, Jesus says, that God gives us the Spirit of truth to guide us into the truth, glorifying our Lord as that truth comes to light.[2]

But what’s the result?  What does that look like, to have the Spirit of God guiding us?

Well, frankly, straight from the pages of scripture, a Spirit-filled life is one that catches the world off-guard, one which defies all worldly logic or explanation, to the point that the world looked at the disciples and said “you’re speaking nonsense, you’re drunk!”.

And really, if we lived the way God intended, I think we’d get the same reaction:

When the Holy Spirit comes into your life, when the Holy Spirit becomes your defense attorney, standing beside you through life, telling you in each situation whether you need to plead guilty and ask for mercy or whether you need to stand firm and do what is right, I can guarantee – I know from experience – that your life will not make sense by worldly standards.

The Holy Spirit will guide you to love God and neighbour, and convict you that loving your own life – putting yourself first – will cause you to lose what little life you have.  Living for God and others rather than yourself?  “What foolishness”, the world says, “listen to yourself, what’s wrong with you?”.

The Holy Spirit will guide you to carry the burdens of those who sit beside you here, and then go out and extend a hand to lift the burden from those you don’t even know.  The world says “nobody’s got time or energy for that, you gotta look out for #1”.  We ask for a yoke to be put around our neck, knowing that, in the long run, it’s better to share a load than to haul it yourself.

The Holy Spirit, standing beside us, will teach us not to cling to things, but to share what we have since everything, including the health and strength we have to work and the family and country we were born into are not our own doing.  The world tells us to store up for tomorrow, the Holy Spirit tells us to trust God and open our storehouses, barns, and bank accounts, for whatever we store up today is going to lose value tomorrow, and wealth is a harsh master.  The Holy Spirit says, “if someone takes your coat, let them take your shirt too” – don’t get worked up, don’t worry about it, don’t get your heart set on revenge; “no”, the Holy Spirit says, “pray for your enemy”. 

The World says “you’re nuts.  Listen to yourself!  Are you drunk?”

The Holy Spirit says “all my hope is in Christ alone”, I will not trust in gifts or strength or wisdom or power or might.  The Holy Spirit says, if you think you’ve got your faith and the future figured out, that’s not faith: faithfulness is putting your trust in God, not because you can chart out the pros and cons of why it makes sense, but simply because He’s God and we’re not.

The world says, “we don’t need God.  Religion served a purpose before we knew how everything works.  Look at all the bad that hypocrites have done in God’s name; trust in yourself, find your identity in yourself, be proud of who you are, rest easy, eat, drink, and be merry, for you only live once.”

The Holy Spirit says, “trust in God, for you were created by one greater for yourself for a purpose bigger than yourself; there’s more to life than what we see, there’s more to love or grief than a chemical in the brain, there’s more to pain and shame than social expectations and bad memories, there’s more to the pain passed from generation to generation than social work and a helping hand can fix”.  The Holy Spirit says, “you’re longing for more because you were created for more, but you can never spread yourself thin enough or stare at the emptiness within long enough to fill that void; the piece that fills that God-given hole is outside of yourself, just waiting to be invited in”.

The world says, “no, shoot for the stars, make a name for yourself; work harder, put your best foot forward, pull yourself up from your bootstraps, do what makes you happy, take your time off, live your best life, you deserve better, just keep going, ignore the pain, post the happy moments to your timeline, take that extra loan, cut those people loose, be the person you want to be, life is passing you by”. 

But the Spirit cries out “your young people will have visions of God’s faithfulness even though the world is set on exhaustion and decay; the old will dream dreams, trusting in God to do what they now know they can never do for themselves.  There is a way that leads to life and wholeness, all you have to do is look up and live, follow rather than stubbornly trying to lead, admit your weakness, admit your failures, and instead of wearing yourself out, plug yourself in to a source of unending power.”

…And the world says, “that’s insane.  These people must be drunk.”.

You are my witnesses.

And Jesus said, “The Spirit… will bear witness about me.  And you also will bear witness.”.

You see, the world will notice.

The wisdom of God is foolishness to those who are perishing.  The wise of the world have become futile in the darkness of their minds.

If we allow the Spirit to guide us in this absolutely ridiculous way of life, yes, the world might think we’re nuts.  But they will notice what God has done.

Friday night, Kristina and I went to the legion for a burger.  Someone who works for the Town was there, someone very involved with the evacuees from Fort Simpson.  This person mentioned how all of the staff were worn out from the work, how there’s so much overtime to get sorted out.  Then they paused.  “You must be wiped out”, this person said, “it seemed like you were coming and going all week”.  “Yeah, it was a long week, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to help”.  “Yes, but the staff were being paid, this is their job.”  “It’s my job too, we’re supposed to carry each others burdens and help those in need”.  On the way back to the table, she said, “I’ve never thought about it like that.  Thanks for all the church is doing in the community”. 

Always be ready to give an answer.

My friends, this is all foolishness in the world’s eyes.  And it will stay that way until they see for themselves what it is for ordinary people like you and me to choose not to live for ourselves, not to collect up flowery thank-you posts on Facebook, but to simply, quietly, constantly, and faithfully live for God’s glory. 

And then, like good old St. Peter, when they say we’re nuts, we too have the opportunity to say, “no, we’re not drunk”, we’re not crazy, God is faithful – and I’m putting my trust in him. 

Let’s be a church that’s so faithful, so out there, that people stop and stare, and then, by grace alone, when they realize that doing the same thing will only produce the same result, that trusting in themselves to somehow do better than they did yesterday will only end in stubborn frustration, we’ll be here with open arms, living as the Spirit leads us on.

To God be the glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.

[1] John 15:26-27

[2] Acts 2: 4b-15