Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Sermon December 27, 2015

Other than the stories of the nativity, the bible contains the only one account of Jesus’ life as a child.  This is the account we have just heard of the events when he visits the temple in Jerusalem when he is twelve years old. 
The typical way of looking at this episode in the life of the young Jesus is to regard it with wonder and amazement.  Here is a boy—in many ways he is still a child—and yet it is a glimpse of the potential he will show when he begins his ministry among the people of Galilee at thirty years of age.  Isn’t it wonderful how he has a realization that he is more than just a typical teenager?  He declares he must be about his Father’s business.  Of course we realize he is referring to his heavenly Father.  We know that he will later show us that his life will indeed be about his Father’s business. 

However, there is another way of looking at this.  In some ways this is the account of a typical teenager.  He doesn’t give a second thought to how his actions will affect others — particularly his parents—his earthly parents.  He is unmindful of how his parents would react to his absence.  Of course they will be worried.  They will be inconvenienced and have to make the journey back to the temple to search for him.  As with many teenagers, he is rather disdainful of their natural concern for his well being and dismissive of their authority. 
It is unfortunate that there are no other accounts in the bible of what Jesus was like as a child and as a teenager.  We might let our imagination fill in the blanks and think about what a challenge it might have been for his parents.  He was most likely a very precocious child who showed at times other glimpses of his divine nature.  There are accounts in the apocryphal, non-canonical sources which gives us a glimpse of what it might have been like.  There is one account of Jesus as a child making twelve sparrows out of clay and miraculously turning them into real live birds; a rather sweet, harmless act.  However, it was on the Sabbath and is perhaps a precursor to times when he is criticized by the Pharisees for doing miracles on the Sabbath.

 However, there is another in which the child Jesus is not so playful.   He is carelessly knocked down by a playmate and is aroused to anger and kills him with a curse.  The parents of the dead child naturally see the danger in such unbridled power and want him expelled from the town.  The account goes on, “Joseph arose and took hold upon his ear and wrung it sore”.  Jesus warns Joseph that to act that way is unwise and to “vex him not”. 

But in his developing wisdom he does not retaliate against his earthly father.  These accounts are apocryphal and should not be taken a literally true. They didn’t make it into the canon of scripture.  However, they give us some interesting possibilities of the challenges of raising such a son. 
These accounts and our Gospel reading do show us promise of the greatness which is ahead.  At this precocious age he shows great wisdom to the elders at the temple.  We are told that this at the temple outburst, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” – is the exception to his behaviour.  We are told that from this point on in his childhood, he is obedient to them.  This reflects what is proclaimed in the Gospel Luke after he is presented as an infant in the Temple, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” 

The account of Jesus’ visit to the Temple at age twelve is, I believe, important for us.  It gives us a glimpse of someone who is not only divine but is also fully human.  It shows something of Jesus’ human nature.  It shows us what it means for us to be human.  It shows us what it means for us as fallible, human beings who are children of God to follow Jesus.  We know from this experience of Jesus that he did increase in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.  This gives us the hope and promise of what is possible for us.  We also can increase in wisdom and stature.  We also have the possibility of become more fully the people that God intends us to be
—that God intended us to be when he created each of us.  We have that possibility to grow and develop and mature as Christians and as people.  This will not happen automatically.  God gives us that potential and possibility.  However, we are called to do our parts as children of God and as Christians.  We are called to follow the commandments that Jesus has given us.  We are to love God with all our hearts and minds and souls with all our strength and we are to love our neighbours as ourselves. 

This is a challenge but it is one that Jesus knows as he experienced it and knows the challenges that we have in following them.  He also knows that we will not always succeed just as he did not consider his earthly parents at the Temple.  We do know that he is with us in the times we do not succeed as well as the times that we do.  Thanks be to God.  

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Sermon Christmas Eve 2015

In my imagination the distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is a long, long journey.   The Gospels are the account of the journey which Jesus makes from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  Tonight Jesus is born is a lowly stable in Bethlehem—the city of David.  He will make that journey to Jerusalem which will culminate on Palm Sunday and ultimately with the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. 
 For Jesus and for us it is a long, journey; such a long journey which will take a lifetime.  In reality the distance between that tiny insignificant village and that magic city Jerusalem is a very short one.  I discovered that some years ago when I went, with my fellow clergy in Huron to the Holy Land.  It was a wonderful, amazing, surprizing experience or I should say experiences.  One of the surprizing things was the trip by tour bus from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.  It took only about five minutes.  Now I wanted to be sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me and I check and the distance is only 8 km.  However, it is a long journey in other ways.  Bethlehem is in the Palestinian territory and to get there we had to cross through the infamous security fence— a wall really—that Israel has erected to keep out terrorists or in Palestinian terms freedom fighters. 

There are many surprizes in our journey to the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem—the place they have officially marked as the birthplace of Jesus.   Bethlehem is no longer a small, insignificant village of Jesus’ birth.  It has a population of about 30,000.  There is the church above the site.  It is shared by three Christian groups, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic—each with a separate part of the church. 

They have very different ideas of what church is and the contrast is dramatic for the visitor.  To reach the actual place, which has been designated as the site of the stable, you have to go down into a lower level—a cave really— which contains the Grotto of the Nativity. 
The Grotto is another great surprize.  It is not that wonderful nativity scene we have in our minds—a stable with cattle lowing and the star of Bethlehem shining down like a spotlight on the star of the production; the baby Jesus with lovely young mother Mary and his dotting step father Joseph standing in the background.  There are no odious smells of a stable in the winter or noises of animals wanting to be fed or dirty, smelly shepherds with their bleating, noisy lambs with a baby lying on not very comfortable straw.   The Grotto of the Nativity has also been idealized.  It is clean and warm in a setting that is appropriate for the birth of the prince of Peace. 
 The reality of that journey to Bethlehem and of the stable was very different from our idealized vision of how it was.  The great poet T. S. Eliot caught the essence of it is his poem The Journey of the Magi which has these opening lines. 
The Journey Of The Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

How often does the image in our imagination not match the reality?  We celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.  And yet two thousand years later there is no peace that we can see. There seem to be conflict and war all around us.  There seems to be no possibility of peace, of real peace braking out in the world.  So was all this that we are celebrating just a fantasy, a false hope? 

I assure you it is not.  We know that with the birth of that small helpless baby in that small insignificant collection of huts in that ridiculous place meant for animals there was the truth of peace and salvation for the world.  In our darker times we can convince ourselves that there is no peace on earth and never will be.  The unbelievers can say it is only a fantasy. 
Jesus was not born in Bethlehem and if he was it was not on December the 25th.  It is all a lie and an illusion.  And yet we know in our hearts that what we celebrate tonight is true.  The details may not have happened the way they are often depicted.  We can’t know if there was an angel who brought good news to the shepherds.  We don’t know that there was a star which lit the way for the magi on their long journey.  

And yet we know where it matters—we know in our heart of hearts that the prince of peace was born that day.  The only son of God the Father came to be with us and to bring salvation to the world.  We know that the message of the angle to the shepherds was and is true—fear not I bring you tiding of great joy which will be to all people.  Peace, hope, joy and love were born in that stable in Bethlehem.

We know that peace is possible for each of us.  Our difference can be reconciled.  We have the hope of everlasting salvation which was brought to all people with the birth of that small helpless baby.  It is a long journey for us from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  And yet we have the assurance that Jesus with us each step of that journey.  We know that Jesus Christ is born to each of us and love is born in our hearts    Hallelujah.  

Sermon Christmas Day 2015

Our Gospel reading this morning is the wonderful account in the Gospel of Luke of the nativity of our Lord.  It is good to note that it is only one part of the story.   Did you notice what was missing?  It tells us of the visit by the shepherds.  But  we have to turn to the Gospel of Matthew to another part of the story—the part which includes the wise men or Magi coming from the East.  We have turned them into kings in our retelling of the story.  The Gospel of Mark, the earliest account of Jesus’ life doesn’t even have tell us of the events of the birth.  The Gospel of John takes a completely different approach.  It gives us an account which is a retelling of the creation story.  John tells us that Jesus—the Word was with God in the beginning:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

In essence, John gives us the big picture—the cosmology of the creation.  I like that because I am the type of person who likes the big picture.  I don’t do that well with details as Lorna will tell you.  John does sum up for us that is important fact that with the incarnation the Light came into the world and the darkness did not overcome it; Jesus is the Light of the World.
Whenever I hear that passage—that truth, I am reminded of the hymn that was one of my favourites when I was growing up—Jesus Bid Us Shine:
Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light
Like a little candle burning in the night;
In this world of darkness, we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine.

That hymn resonated with me when I was young.  It resonated with me because it affirmed my desire to be in my small safe corner.  I was and am a strong introvert.  I found the world to be in many ways a big, mysterious place that I had trouble figuring out how to be in.  It was much better for me to be in my own small corner where I didn’t have to try to figure out what my role was in the world.  In my small corner I could let my light shine.  However, As I grew older I discovered that in my small corner my light didn’t shine that brightly and I realized I had to come out of my small corner and be in the world. 
Out of my small corner, I discovered that the light of my candle could join with other lights and become a much bigger light that will enlighten the world.  There is a movie made a long time ago—in 1940—that I saw on TV when I was young that illustrates.  

The movie, Young Tom Edison starring Mickey Rooney.  It is, as the title suggests, the story of the life of the young Thomas Edison the inventor.  In one scene Tom’s mother is very ill and needs an operation to save her.  The old country doctor says he can’t operate because there is not enough light in the home (there were no hospitals in the area and the only source of light in the home was oil lamps.  Tom, being the inventive young man he was, realizes he can solve the problem.  He breaks into the general store and steals a full length mirror.  He sets it up in the dining room and places all the oil lamps in front of it.  The mirror focuses the disparate light from all the lamps and reflects one brilliant light onto the table where the doctor is able to operate on his mother.  Of course she is saved and little Mickey—sorry Tom— is the hero. 
I don’t know if this story is a true event in the life of Thomas Edison but it contains the capital t Truth just as the nativity stories of Matthew and Luke and John contain the Truth of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  We each can light our little candles in our small corners.  However, if we come together as the Church, the body of Christ our lights will join together and be reflected through the mirror of Jesus Christ.  That light will be the light of Christ and will enlighten the world. 

As it says in the Gospel of Matthew, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid”.  Let us be the light of the world and let our lights so shine that the world knows that Jesus Christ, the Light of the World is born today.  Hallelujah.  

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Sermon December 13, 2015 Advent 3

Today we light the Advent candle for Joy.  To me, Joy is a bit of an enigma.  When I think about it I am not sure what it actually is.  It is different from happiness but how is it different?  I did what I often do now when I have a question about meaning—I turned to that source of all knowledge—Google.  I found a website with a great number of images of joy. 
There were many different images—many different ideas and depictions of joy.  There were people jumping—this would be jumping for joy as the saying goes.  There were others who were in nature smelling the flowers; embracing nature and sunshine; there were a number of people with big smiles on their faces including one of a little baby (I especially like that one), the iconic one of Charlie Brown and Snoopy dancing their dance of joy; there were also phases such as choose joy, find joy on your journey, joy is the best makeup, awakening joy, there were even a couple of religious ones such as ‘joy comes from trusting God’, and ‘joy to the world the Lord is come’.  There were also a few surprizing ones such as one with a young woman pointing a very big gun (It’s not clear what she was aiming at) and a couple with very scantily clothed buxom young women. 
One particularly interesting one pictured a man jumping up exuberantly with the question “happiness or joy?”  What can we make of all this joy or at least these depictions of joy?  There seems to be a common thread running through many of the images.  Many were smiling with great big smiles; many more were jumping with outstretch arms; many were embracing nature exuberantly.  I’m not sure about the young scantily clothed women—perhaps they were all named Joy.  However, I think the common thread running through many, if not most, of the images was a sense of losing oneself, of reacting without constrain, of embracing life to the fullest.  There was also an underlying theme in a few of them that joy was a choice i.e. chose joy. 
It is perhaps not surprizing in today’s culture that there were so few that had a religious connecting or implication.  Here we are celebrating the anticipation of joy that was and will be born again on Christmas morning:
Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,

This is the wonderful news that is proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds.  Why then is there so little association of Christianity with joy?  Shouldn’t Christians be living out the joy that was experienced with the sight of that small beautiful baby in the stable in Bethlehem?  Shouldn’t we be embracing the knowledge that Jesus Christ the only begotten son of God was born to us and walked among us and brought us salvation and embracing life to the fullest, joyfully? Unfortunately many Christians don’t seem to have gotten that message and the implications of that message.  Many Christians act as if there was no good news.  I guess they don’t understand what “Gospel” means.  Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ among us and with us.  As that one image said, “joy comes from trusting God.”   During the rest of Advent I invite you to embrace life as fully as possible.  I invite you to reflect on the joy of Jesus Christ in your life and respond in some small or some big ways.  Perhaps it is helping out the refugees we are sponsoring.  Perhaps it is serving at a community dinner at St. Paul’s.  Perhaps it is even wishing people a Merry Christmas and smiling at stranger.  Or perhaps if Christmas is not a joyful time for you because of its association with sad events and memories or loss, I invite you to participate with the Blue Christmas service at the U. C. in Grand Bend on next Sunday at 4:00 and know the comfort that Jesus can bring to people.  That too is an aspect of joy—the knowledge that Jesus Christ is with us in our sorrow as well as our joy.  We have tidings of comfort and joy.  That too is a part of the wonders of his love. 
Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,