Tuesday, 24 November 2015

A World Based on Love? Get Real!

Start small. Pick one issue that speaks to you. Read about it, study it, learn from others who are involved in bringing about change. Contribute your time and money and energy to make a difference. Change will not happen unless we decide to make it happen.

Anglican and perhaps people generally, but especially Anglicans, are not good with change.  There is the old joke: How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb?  Change!!! We don’t change; we’re Anglicans and anyway that lightbulb is a memorial to my parents so we can’t change it. 

As Anglicans and Christians we are called to live in a way that is for most of us is not the way that is, to speak bluntly, counter cultural.  This is perhaps particularly difficult for Anglicans because the Anglican Church in Canada following on our Church of England roots, have been part of the culture and have been identified with the mainstream.  This served the Anglican Church, if not necessarily God, well in our history and we thrived in the modern era when people came to church as a matter of course and there was not much else to do on Sunday.  The church was in many ways the center of community life.  However, I believe that this did provide road blocks to living our Christian calling.  It did not require Anglicans to necessarily reflect on what it means to be a Christian in the world today. 

Today's post-modern world is a very different place and we Anglicans find ourselves in a place that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  We find ourselves out of sync with the culture. This not necessarily a bad thing and can help us find a place in the world which is not so bound up with our culture. 

Jesus called his followers to live a radical life and not a life that was joined at the hip with the culture it was located in.  For the last few weeks I have, perhaps unintentionally, been preaching on the central message of Jesus that we are to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength and our neighbours as ourselves.  To do this or even to attempt to do this is truly radical and is counter cultural. 
If we are to follow this prime directive of Jesus we need to repent which means to turn around from our current way of living and go the other way which is based on love.  The opening lesson above from Br. David Vryhof is a practical approach to change and particularly this change.  

Sermon November 22, 2015; The Reign of Christ

Seven Sign of the Kingdom
What do you think of when you hear the word “sign”?  It indicates something which should have a clear meaning.   Some sign are more important than others.  There are all sorts of signs.  If you remember when you took the test for you driving licence there were signs that you had to recognize as they were important.  If you didn’t know what they meant you would probably not get your licence.  When you did begin to drive they were very important to proper driving.  Some road signs are recommendations like suggested speeds and some are cautionary like slow moving vehicle signs.  Others are requirements like speed limits which people more or less observe—rather honoured in the breech—like speed limits which you can usually fudge a bit without getting into trouble.  I usually drive 10 km over the speed limit when road and traffic and weather conditions allow and am pretty sure I won’t get a ticket.  Some are ones you should always obey like traffic lights—red means stop and a stop sign means stop. 

There are some signs which are not as clear in their meaning.  You have some figures of people which represent which is the washroom for men and which are for women.  They are useful and fairly important to recognize.  It has the potential to be embarrassing if you get them wrong.  Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between them and I find myself stopping and comparing the two figures to make sure I get the right one.  So some signs are mandatory and some are optional and some are inconvenient and some can lead to consequences that could be embarrassing but not serious.  However, there are many signs in this world and the world would be a very different place without them.

Today’s Gospel reading is from John.  Now John’s Gospel is very different from the other three.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are sometimes called the Synoptic Gospels as they are very similar and seem to be drawing water from the same well.    Indeed Mark is thought to be the earliest and Matthew and Luke drew extensively from Mark as well as other sources.  However, John’s Gospel is a different kettle of fish.  It is thought to be the latest – probably written about 90 CE.  There, I have just given you the first lesson in the introduction to the New Testament Bible study.  Don’t worry there won’t be a test at the end.
There are many significant differences between John and the Synoptic Gospels.  One of the major differences is that John speaks of signs.  These are in some cases things Jesus does that are usually considered to me miracles.  There are seven important signs that John identifies:
  1. Water to wine (2:1-12)
  2. Healing of the official’s son (4:43-54)
  3. Healing a paralyzed man (5:1-15)
  4. Feeding 5000 (6:1-15)
  5. Walking on water (6:16-24)
  6. Healing a man born blind (9:1-12)
  7. Raising Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44)
N.T. Wright describes the meaning of Signs in the gospel of John like this,
The whole point of signs is that they are moments when heaven and earth intersect with each other. (That’s what the Jews believed happened in the Temple.) The point is not that they are stories which couldn’t have happened in real life, but which point away from earth to a heavenly reality. – N.T. Wright John for Everyone, 21.
N. T. Wright is the retired Bishop of Durham England and a world famous theologian. He will be delivering the R. T. Orr lecture at Huron College this Wednesday.  However, I don’t completely agree with him on this. 

I believe that the signs which John records are pointing to a different reality on earth and not just away from earth to a heavenly reality.  A few weeks ago I spoke about biblical miracles and noted that how to understand biblical miracles is a challenge for many modern Christians and it is a challenge that I have struggled with for many years as part of my faith journey.  My approach at this point in my journey is not to be concerned about the literal facts.  What is important for me is the truth that is contained in the event and not the truth of the events.  How are we to understand the truth of the message that is contained in the scripture passage? 
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells Pilate, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.’  This world that Jesus speaks of is the way this world understand a kingdom.  This world’s kings and Emperors were absolute and used ther power to control and conquer people by means of force.  Jesus’ kingdom is ruled by love.

The seven signs of John’s Gospel point to that kingdom.  The first sign is a celebration of a marriage which has run out of wine which was central to that celebration.  The marriage is a sign of the union of two people which enables them or at least helps them to live out God’s intended purpose.  It is a beginning of what is possible in the kingdom.  The next two signs are healing; one of a man’s son and the other of a paralytic.  The man’s son was restored to life pointing to the life that is possible even though it may seem like our lives are dead and meaningless.  The paralytic man was brought out of a life in which he was not able to engage with life.  The next sign is the feeding of the five thousand.  Through Jesus we will be fed with the spiritual food that feeds our spirits and our souls.  In the next sign Jesus walks on water.  This is a somewhat different account than in the Synoptic accounts.  Here the disciples are afraid when they see Jesus approaching but when he engaged them they were no longer afraid and were willing to take him into their boat.  We need to be able to put aside all our reservations and welcome Jesus into our lives fully.  The next sign is the healing of the man born blind.  Jesus will enable us to see the truth of the kingdom which is based on love.  Love is more powerful than hate and will enable us to overcome the fear that we have and our need for absolute security.  The final sign is the raising of Lazarus.  As I noted in my sermon on this sign the key for me is the last statement of Jesus, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  This is exactly what Jesus is saying to each of us.  We are to unbind ourselves from the things which bind us hand and foot and prevent us from living the full life that Jesus calls us to. 

John has given us hints of what the kingdom of God can be like.  It can point to a kingdom which is ruled by love and not power.  It point to a kingdom in which we love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength and our neighbours and ourselves.  Thanks be to God.  

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Forgive us our Trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us

Since writing last week about my ambivalence around Remembrance Day and Pacifism, we have been faced with what seems to be a world changing events in Paris.  From the perspective of the West It is actually just a continuation and intensification of events that have been ongoing since 9-11.  For people in the Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other countries in the region there has been, it seems,  ever increasing terror and chaos which has spilled over to the West.

There are many questions which arise from these events for us.  For Christians we have the quandary about how we react to the events and approach to whole seemingly new approach to warfare with an enemy that can appear out of the crowd without warning and fad into the background just quickly.  As I address in my sermon yesterday, how are we to love our neighbours who seem to be the manifestation of evil?  How can we possibly forgive those who trespass against us in these terrible ways and yet how can we not if we are to ask God to forgive our trespasses?  My wife Lorna led the prayers of the people at St. John by the Lake in Grand Bend yesterday.  The prayers do a very good job of express how we can pray in times like this.  I have attached a copy for you to consider and invite you to pray them.  We pray that God redeem those whose hearts have turned to stone and in whom compassion has died. We ask that by the power of your Holy Spirit, we draw back from revenge and with your help establish conditions for peace among nations and between individuals, as you draw all people to yourself in love. We ask God that it will be a step towards reconciliation.   Amen

War and Rumors of War

There certainly is no shortage of war or rumors of war these days.  The temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed long ago.  The only remnant is the Western Wall—Jewish people do not want it referred to as the Wailing Wall.  Many evangelical Christians believe that we are in the end times and are looking forward with anticipation of the rebuilding of the temple as the final sign of the apocalypse.  However, Jesus does tell us that even he did not know when that would occur.
People have been predicting the end-times since the first Christians when they expected that it would occur, as Jesus also predicted in their life time.  There have been disastrous consequences throughout the subsequent centuries for the many people who believed those who preached that the end times were at hand.  One lesson that these erstwhile prophets of apocalypse have learned is never to be specific.  I googled information on end-times predictions and found no shortage of specific predictions.  Here are a few examples:
·         About 90 CE: Saint Clement 1 predicted that the world end would occur at any moment.
·         365 CE: A man by the name of Hilary of Poitiers, announced that the end would happen that year
·         375 to 400 CE: Saint Martin of Tours, a student of Hilary, was convinced that the end would happen sometime before 400 CE.
·         968 CE: An eclipse was interpreted as a prelude to the end of the world by the army of the German emperor Otto III.
·         1000-MAY: The body of Charlemagne was disinterred on Pentecost. A legend had arisen that an emperor would rise from his sleep to fight the Antichrist.
·         1179: John of Toledo predicted the end of the world during 1186. This estimate was based on the alignment of many planets.
·         1496: This was approximately 1500 years after the birth of Jesus. Some mystics in the 15th century predicted that the Apocalypse would begin during this year.
·         1689: Benjamin Keach, a 17th century Baptist, predicted the end of the world for this year.
·         1794: Charles Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, thought that Doomsday would occur in this year.
We even have non-Christian predictions:
·         1919: Meteorologist Albert Porta predicted that the conjunction of 6 planets would generate a magnetic current that would cause the sun to explode and engulf the earth on DEC-17.
·         2000:  We can all remember the Y2K prediction of the end of computing would occur and disaster would strike when computer clock turned over to 2000.
·         2012: the Mayan calendar was understood to predict the end of the world.

What, then, can we take from all this?  We can, of course, throw up our hands and believe that there is no point in trying to respond to the challenges that our current world presents to us.  I believe this is one way we can be led astray.  If the end of the world is immanent what is the point of trying to make it a better place.  We can just sit back and have a good time until that rapture take us—unless we are left behind to deal with the apocalypse.
Jesus tells us that we should not be led astray by false prophets, Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray”.   We can be led astray in many aspect of life from political leaders, to people promising easy answers to any problem.  It is human nature to want a strong leader who will give us the answers to all our problems.  There are many examples of the Israelites in the Old Testament wanting a strong leader to save them.  Moses appeared to them in Egypt as God’s messenger and they followed him but when times got tough and Moses was too long on the mountain they looked to a golden calf to save them.  In the Promised Land they wanted a King like other people around them and God gave them Saul and David and Solomon.  But still they ended up in exile.  They worshipped false God’s such as Baal when their leaders led them astray.

What exactly is a false prophet?   Basically it can be defined as one who falsely claims the gift of prophecy or divine inspiration, or who uses that gift for evil ends.  We have to remember that prophets were not people who predicted the future.  They were people who were giving God’s message to the people.  It was often the king or ruler that received the benefit of a prophetic declaration that the king and the people were not following the course God called them to.  As noted in the definition a false prophet will claim to be divinely inspired and will attempt to use that claim for wrong purposes such as personal gain. 

In modern times we have many examples of people who use false claim and personal charisma for evil ends.   Hitler and Mussolini did that in the last century.  Now we have the added challenge of false prophets who offering all kinds of easy answers and quick fixes to our problems.  We have the miracle cures to health problems; we have miracle cures to financial problems—the popularity of lotteries is a symptom of this; we have easy answers to loneliness; we have miracle cures for relationship problems from using the right deodorant to wearing the right clothes or meeting Mr. or Ms. Right on-line. 

These are all the false prophecies of facile and easy answers.  The answer may not be easy but it is there for each of us. It is contained in that ancient Jewish prayer which Jesus confirms is to be followed today—The Shema; the Hear of Israel:
Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
This is the first and the great commandment.
The second is like it:
Love your neighbour as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

Love your neighbour as yourself; simple but not easy.  Actually sounds impossible if we take it seriously.  There are neighbours who are easy to love—if we are lucky.  But what about those neighbours next door and on the other side of the world who are not easy to love—the ones we might classify as our enemies?  As we have seen in the recent events in Paris How do we love them?  As we will pray in the prayers of the people, we can pray that peace may be established among the nations and between individuals as God will draw all people to God’s self in love.  That is a start.  We also must put that love into action and take even small steps to bring reconciliation to individuals and nations.   We can pray for God’s guidance for in God even the seemingly impossible is possible; all things are possible.  Today when you go home pray that God will open your heart to someone who is difficult in your life and pray that every day.  God willing it will become a step towards reconciliation.  Amen 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Sermon November 8, 2015 Mark 12:38-44

Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude
Have you ever had an encounter or perhaps many encounters with people who are pan handling?  I must say that I have not had that experience since I moved to Parkhill.  You probably don’t run into many panhandlers in Grand Bend or Port Franks.  This is not to say that there aren’t people who need assistance but it doesn’t seem to be in that form.  However, when I lived in London and when I return to London or when I am in Toronto it is not uncommon to have people approach me for handouts.  It is something which I must say I do not look forward to.  I seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place of wanting to do my Christian duty of generosity and not being taken advantage of.  Do I give something and if so how much?  Is this person really in need or is it a scam?  How can I avoid this person and avoid having to deal with these requests?  There are the stop light pan handlers who approach cars stopped at a red light and ask for help.  I find myself hoping and yes even praying that the light will turn green before the person gets to my car.  So much for Christian charity and loving your neighbour.

The reality is that I consider myself to be a generous person and I try to give back to various causes part of what God has given me.  I do try to live my life as a Christian and not as the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus so often criticized and condemned.  In today’s Gospel we have Jesus doing that.  It is the scribes that get the force of Jesus’ criticism, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”  That is quite a list of wrong doings and wrong attitudes.  Basically they are more concerned with doing good for appearances than doing good for the sake of the good.  There was no shortage of opportunity for Jesus to criticize them and he seemed to make use of every opportunity; making man for the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath for men; showing that we should not pray like the Pharisee giving thanks that he is not like the tax collector; and on and on. 

I think it is very clear that we should not devour widow’s houses or pray long prayers for the sake of appearances.  That should be possible to do.  However, how do we live on a day to day basis when we are faced with choices about what we support, how much we give, and how we do it?  Do we have a goal of tithing—the biblical ten percent—if so is that gross income or after tax income?  Is it the modern tithe or the biblical tithe?  

The biblical tithe is based on the passage in Genesis, “And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him one tenth of everything”.  We can turn to the NT to see how the tithe should be spent.  It says in the epistle of James, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world”. 
All in all it is not something which is simple.  Life today is more complex than in biblical times.  We have fairly significant taxes which we pay to support our various levels of Governments.  The money we give to charity is tax deductible or at least we get a tax credit.  We have the opportunity to support our church but also to support so many different possibilities and we are inundated by offers to help us contribute; health groups, arts groups, United Way, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, World Vision, Habitat for Humanity, disaster relief, and on and on.  Of course we are currently being given the opportunity to contribute to the Syrian Refugee crisis and support the initiative of London Deanery.  It can be confusing and almost overwhelming.

I believe that the lesson we can take from Jesus today is to give with our hearts.  One commentary I read held that what Jesus is valuing in the widow who gave the mite is a “Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude”.  The widow did not give from her abundance but from everything she had.  We are called to give from a sense of gratitude and thankfulness for what God has given us.  The amount that we give and where we give is a matter between each of us and God (and perhaps our accountants).  

I have resolved some of my conflict with giving to panhandlers by deciding I am not going to try and judge whether they are worthy or are trying to scam me.  I will give a certain amount when I am asked and when I reach my limit and will say I am not supporting them today.  However, I will try to do it out of a generous heart and try to treat each person as a human being who is a child of God even though he or she may not appear to be made in the image of a God that in my heart of hearts I recognize.  Each of us as Christians is called to discern how to respond to Jesus command to love our neighbour as ourselves.  We are called to try and do that each day.  Some days it is easier than others and sometimes we will do it better than other but we are called to try.  The cultivation of a Genuine Heart, a Grateful Spirit, and a Generous Attitude can take a lifetime but it is the journey we are called to as followers of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.  Thanks be to God.   

Remembrance Day, Pacifism, and Christianity

Yesterday we marked Remembrance Day at the congregations in Port Franks and Grand Bend and Wednesday is the official Remembrance Day.  Over the years I have grown to appreciate the ceremonies marking November 11th —the 11th hour or the 11th day of the 11th month when the Great War, the war to end all wars ended.   This day honours all those who have served and especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries.  Reciting In Flanders Field yesterday I found that my eyes teared up both times.  The poem and all it represents has become more meaningful to me over the years. 
I was raised in a home that had an ambivalent attitude towards Remembrance Day.  My father, a United Church minister, was a committed pacifist and did not have a positive attitude to military and those who served.  It is somewhat ironic that one of his grandchildren, my son and his wife, had careers in the Canadian army.  In addition I have served as the chaplain to the Parkhill branch of the Legion for some years now and I will be presiding at Remembrance Day services again this year. 
Honouring those who served their country in times of war is not in conflict with ideal of pacifism.  How do we, as Christians today live in the tension of a world in which groups of people like ISIS and other terrorist commit horrendous acts on their own population and threaten us, at least according to the leaders in the Western world?   The West has responded by bombing campaigns which are only, it seems, a temporary measure and is not in any way a solution to this crisis.  We can and should respond to the humanitarian crisis that results from this and other forces at work in Middle East.  However, should we, as Christian be supporting an ongoing bombing campaign and its resulting destruction of property and civilian lives.  The new Canadian government is withdrawing from the bombing campaign and will concentrate on training and other forms of support.  That is well and good but what should the Western countries be doing in response to this crisis?  I certainly don’t know.
Richard Rohr has written on the ideal of the warrior in society which provides a different perspective and may help cut though much of the distortion that develops around it and speaks of the positive as well as the negative aspects of it:
It takes warrior energy to see through and stand against mass illusions of our time, and be willing to pay the price of disobedience. It takes warrior energy to see through the soft rhetoric of "support our troops" which cleverly diverts from the objective evil of war. It takes warrior energy to walk to a different drum, disbelieve the patriotic trivia, and re-believe in the tradition of nonviolence, civil resistance, and martyrdom--the way of the cross.
I don’t believe that pacifism is an answer to the current crisis.  It also seems that non-violence, such as that practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King will work against the likes of ISIS.  So we are left with the question of a Christian response to a world in which violence seems to be deeply embedded.  We do need to at least try to see the roots of the current situation in the injustice of the past.  The recent history of response to violence by violence did not work in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It has contributed in part to the rise of ISIS et al.  Richard Rohr also speaks about this:
In the use of force, one simplifies the situation by assuming that the evil to be overcome is clear-cut, definite, and irreversible. Hence there remains but one thing: to eliminate it. Any dialogue with the sinner, any question of the irreversibility of his act, only means faltering and failure.
A military response is, it seems, the natural response to evil in all its perceived forms.  Realistically is can be both necessary and positive as the response to Hitler and Nazi Germany.  However, as Christians we can only pray that there will be other ways to respond to the current situation than all-out war with troops on the ground. 

These thought are rather convoluted and rambling.  However, that is a reflection of my ambivalence in respect to current situations.  As Christian we can respond by supporting those who fight and have fought on our behalf and encourage our Government to properly support those who sacrifice for our country.  We can respond by support for refugees who are innocent victims of the chaos that has developed.  We can also pray for new and different approaches to the terrorist and terrorism.  Thanks be to God.  

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Spirit of Largesse

I am reflecting this morning on how we unbind ourselves from the things that prevent us from following Jesus as Christians.  I believe that is the truth contained in the Gospel passage which recounts the raising of Lazarus; we need to unbind ourselves from the things in our lives that hold us back.  One of the ways I have been considering in which we can do that is the spirit of largesse that we can cultivate towards others and the world. 
The concept of largesse does not seem to be a popular one in today’s world.  Charles Williams writes of the largesse of spirit which he defines as courtesy, generosity, humility and charity.  He consider the essence of Christianity to be,  “the doctrine of largesse; the doctrine of the Trinity is a doctrine of largesse; the doctrine of the Redemption is a doctrine of largesse…the doctrine of all true adoration—single or mutual—is a doctrine of largesse”. 
It is inspiring to see doctrine to be considered in this way.  I believe that Pope Francis is expressing the doctrine of largesse when he seems to want the Roman Catholic Church to move towards a pastoral approach to  remarried parishioners receiving communion and relationship to LGBT parishioners rather than the (capital D) Doctrine of the church.  This largesse of spirit is what Jesus calls us to in our relationship to others.  How can we practice and strengthen the largesse of spirit in our approach to refugees in the current crisis.  I believe, putting politics aside, that Justin Trudeau has shown he desires to govern with a spirit of largesse.  At least there seem to be intentions of that.  We shall see if that is carried through as the new Canadian government is sworn in and begins to govern.

I believe that what this world needs is a cultivation of the spirit of largesse in our relationships.  May we all strive to have that spirit grow within us.  Blessings. 

Sermon November 1, 2015 John 11:1-45

“Unbind him, and let him go.”
In considering today’s Gospel we are without a doubt in miracle territory.  Lazarus was well and truly dead.  He had been in his tomb for not one or two or three days—but four long days in a hot climate.  Martha is very clear about the condition of the body, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”  It is reminiscent of the opening line of A Christmas Carol:
Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it…Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Well Old Lazarus was dead as a door nail.  There was no doubt whatever about that.  And yet Jesus does the surprizing audacious thing—he raises Lazarus from the dead.  Indeed there are many surprizing things about this event.  First we have Jesus rather nonchalantly waiting to answer the request from Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, to come to Lazarus’ aid when he was ill.  He delays going to see Lazarus.  He seems to be saying, “I will delay until he is dead so I can really show everyone that the power of God is in me and I can perform the miracle and raise him”.  The next surprizing thing is that Jesus weeps.  He sees the distress that Lazarus’ death has caused Mary and Martha. When he sees it he weeps.  There are only two times recorded in the Gospel that Jesus weeps. 

This is one of them.  Did Jesus not expect that Lazarus’ death would cause Mary and Martha distress?  Jesus is able to know people so fully and here he is seemingly callous about the distress he will cause by delaying his return.  That is until he is face-to-face with Mary and Martha’s distress and he is moved and brought to tears.  Finally the great surprize is the act of raising Lazarus from the dead.  Many surprizes—indeed it all amounts to many surprizes wrapped in a puzzle inside a mystery.  All in all it is a miracle indeed.

What are we then to make of this miracle?  Do we accept it, as improbable as it is, on face value and add it to the list of miracles in the bible?  After all we are modern enlightened twenty-first century people who are supposed to believe in science and not in miracles.  What do we do with all the miracles recorded in the bible and especially all the ones that Jesus is recorded performing.  Then there is the central mystery of the Gospels—Jesus triumph of death on Easter Sunday.  The miracle of Lazarus is nothing compared that that.  Do we have to believe in the literalness of the miracles that are recorded in the bible?  Do we try and mythologize them a la Rudolph Bultmann who tried to interpret biblical events existentially?  Do try to understand them in an historical context.  Do we accept them as a matter of faith and say, well, if I don’t believe it all then I can’t believe any of it and what then would I base my faith on?

How to understand biblical miracles is a challenge for many modern Christians and it is a challenge that I have struggled with for many years as part of my faith journey.  My approach at this point in my journey is not to be concerned about the literal facts.  Did Jesus actually change the water into wine at the marriage at Cana?  If so, why did he apparently make enough for ten wedding parties? 
If Jesus drank wine why was there ever a prohibition movement?  Was it red or white and was there ever any wine like it before or since?  Did Jesus really walk on water coming out to the disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee?  Did Peter actually also walk on water until he lost his nerve of his faith?  More controversially, was Mary actually a virgin or was that a mistranslation of the Hebrew word for young girl? What each of us believes and how we understand these events is a matter of faith.   I do not want to try and convince you about the facts one way or the other and whether or not they happened the way they are recorded.

What is important for me is the truth that is contained in the event and not the truth of the events.  How are we to understand the truth of the message that is contained in the scripture passage?  In today’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus what can that say to us here today?
The key for me is the last statement of Jesus, “Unbind him, and let him go.”  This is exactly what Jesus is saying to each of us.  We are to unbind ourselves from the things which bind us hand and foot and prevent us from living the full life that Jesus calls us to.  There are many things which bind us and prevent us from living the life that Jesus calls us to live. 

One way of looking at the things that bind us to our present life is to think of it as sin—those things which prevent us from living fully in Jesus Christ.  We may look at other people and believe we are better than them.  We put all our attitudes that we don’t want to recognize in ourselves on others.  They are the problem and I do not have that problem. They are the ones causing trouble in our church and not anything that I am doing.  If only those people would become Christians like I am then the world would be more as God wants it to be and how Jesus calls us to follow him. 

If we are to love our neighbours as ourselves we first have to love ourselves.  If we are to do that we need to be able to acknowledge the aspects of ourselves that we don’t like and don’t want to acknowledge.  If you think of someone who really gets your goat—who really annoys you, what is it about that person that causes you to react so strongly?  Once you have identified those characteristics look at yourself.  Could it possibly be, in any way that those things are parts of you that you don’t really want to recognize?  

For me one of the most powerful examples that Jesus showed us is the case of the woman caught in adultery.  Are any of us in a position to throw the first stone?  Are any of us without sin?  I know I am not.  Although I certainly at times have an impulse to cast that stone and am willing to join in with the other stone throwers.  Of course when I feel this way I can easily feel I am justified. 
Jesus calls us to love one another and love ourselves.  We need to start by truly loving all those unloved, disowned parts of ourselves and bring them to Jesus in acts of forgiveness and reconciliation.  In that way we can start to become the people that God intends us to be.  Amen.