Sermons

Sermon: "Mama Do You Love Me?" & Romans 8: 31-39: Gifts of Faithfulness September 1, 2019

Storybooks & Scripture.png

So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?

Who is there who will bring an accusation against God’s elect? Will it be God, who has in fact rectified our relationship with himself?
Who is there who is going to condemn? Will it be Christ Jesus who died, indeed who was raised, who sits at God’s right hand and who actually intercedes for us? Who or what is there that can separate us from Christ’s love? Will it be any of those perils that characterize the age that is already passing away, which to be sure still happen to us? Of course not! Rather, no matter what befalls us, we are made more than conquerors by the God who loves us.

I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
— Romans 8: 31- 39 (IHB and CEB)

Holy and life-giving God,

Open our ears,

Open our hearts,

Open our minds.

By the power of the Holy Spirit,

Plant your Word within us,

That it may grow and bear fruit,

For the sake of love and in the name of Jesus.

Amen.

 

 

The foundation of my faith is this: There is nothing you can do to make God love you more.  There is nothing you can do to make God love you less.  God loves you.  Full stop.

 

God loves you, and there is nothing you can do about it.

God’s love is not conditional.

 

I say it, I say it again: God loves you.  Yes, even you.  Yes, even knowing that thing.

I say it, I say it again: God loves you – with a love greater than anything we can even fathom. 

 

And maybe, you are sick of me saying it.  Like my kids at home, ugh, Mom I know, God loves me, alriiiight already.

 

I say it, I say it again: God loves you.  And I will go on saying it until my dying breath because someone every day in every place – some one here today, needs to hear it.  And that is church.  We are holders, here, of that Gospel, that good news that Jesus taught – that God is here, and God is not going anywhere.

 

We are broken people and we come from broken places.  We are hurting – maybe not each one of us, and maybe not today, but being a human means we endure hurt, suffering, hardship.  Sometimes those things come from inside our homes or within the walls of a church.  Maybe we have been on the receiving end of someone’s coercion or manipulation, using out of context Scripture to control or condemn us.

Maybe we are afraid of God.  Maybe we have all but given up on God.

 

The Gospel tells us that God never gives up on us.

 

I say it, I say it again: God loves you.

 

Now, many of us come to this place with a lot of old ideas about God – ideas that don’t jive with what I am saying here.  Like a picture of God with a long white beard up in the clouds, thunderbolt in hand ready to hurl it at anyone who steps off the right path.  Liar!  Kerpow!  Thief!  Kerpow!  Adulterer!  Kerpow!  Or perhaps an idea of God like Santa Claus keeping a naughty and nice list – an in and out, good bad, heaven or hell kind of list.

 

I invite you to take out your hand and hold it in a little cup. If that feels a bit weird for you, imagine a little box in your minds eye.  Now, take any idea of God that is not loving and stuff it in there.  Pluck it out of your mind and stuff it in.  Each little tidbit from your childhood, from heavily lacquered tv preachers and distorted messaging from the media about God.  Anything about God that doesn’t square with the message that God loves you.  Take it out, put it in there.  Now throw it away!  There is no version of God that does not love you.

 

And that I am completely assured of.  As is the Apostle Paul!  In our Scripture today, we pick up part way through Paul teaching the Roman church that they are – we are – set free in Christ as precious and beloved children of God.  That they are – we are – claimed as God’s very own. 

 

And then it seems like Paul gets almost cocky about the whole thing:

“So what are we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (8:31)  It sounds elitist but remember these were a persecuted minority – a group who had a lot of people against them.

What Paul is doing here is helping ground them – ground us – in the surety of God’s Grace.

And he does it in this beautiful rhetorical way – he asks this series of three questions, each of which is answered by an absurdity also placed in the form of a question.

And before we dive into that I want to make something clear from the time that this took place in.  A central activity in the life of the community was the drama of justice – that is to say, two parties with a grievance coming before a judge to make a ruling.  There was even this role of what we now would call a defense attorney- someone speaking on your behalf.  So the scene Paul sets for this dramatic escalation using questions and ridiculous answers, is the ancient version of the courtroom drama – imagine it!  Judge, lawyers, accuser, defendant – gallery with the murmur of hushed gossip in the background.

Question one: “Who is there who will bring an accusation against God’s elect?”  Absurd answer one: “Will it be God, who has in fact rectified our relationship with himself?” Who is going to haul us into court?  God?  The one who freed us from blame?

Question 2: “Who is there who is going to condemn?”  Absurd answer two: “Will it be Christ Jesus who died, indeed who was raised, who sits at God’s right hand and who actually intercedes for us?”  Who will sentence us?  Our own defense attorney?

Paul expands that idea of God as Judge here.  If God is our judge, then Jesus Christ is our defense attorney and we have already been exonerated.

One more absurd question: “Who or what is there that can separate us from Christ’s love?”  Absurd answer three: “Will it be any of those perils which, to be sure, still happen to us?”   What can separate us from Christ’s love? Any awful thing that has already happened to us and has not already cut us off?  

And then what does he say?

“Of course not! Rather, no matter what befalls us, we are made more than conquerors by the God who loves us.”

Of course not, we overcome all things, through the power of love.

 

And then Paul gives us these beautiful lines – words of comfort, assurance, solace, shelter, promise:

“I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love … not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or heights or depths, or any other thing in all creation.” (8:38-39)

 

Paul confirms for us one more time that our suffering is not evidence of God’s lack of love for us.  That God is with us, loving us through our suffering.  God has not and God will not reject us, abandon us, desert us. 

 

I say it, I say it again: God loves you.  And there is no thing that can destroy that.

 

 

But, let me tell you, we sure try.

This is the basic story arc of the Bible and the basic story arc of most of our lives.  The Hebrew Scriptures teach us over and over again about God’s simple, loving guidance, and the Israelite people’s inability to stick with it.  The messes they make and the 589th chances they get with God to try again.  It is the same story with Jesus and his disciples – he would teach them something, only for them to mess it up, him come along and correct it and give them another chance. 

This is us – we pause and pray and worship here together, we hear and discern Gods guidance, and we act in selfish, arrogant, judgemental, unloving ways.  And God corrects our course, leads us back into Her will, forgiving us and offering us another shot.

 

We put lemmings in God’s mucklucks, run away and hide in caves, and put oil on God’s lamp all the time.  And we have since the very beginning.

 

Now, this is an amazing dimension of Paul’s assurance: nothing in all of Creation can separate us from God’s love.  God loves you, and there is nothing that can get in the way of that – not even ourselves.

We can be our own worst enemies – and we are held in the truth that even our own almost limitless ability to rebel against God is overcome by God’s enduring faithfulness to us.

 

I say it, I say it again: God loves you.  God loves you no matter what you do to screw it up.

 

This is why today’s sermon is called Gifts of Faithfulness.  Perhaps we are faithful people…maybe even mostly faithful after a while.  But any faithfulness we have is actually an effect of God’s faithfulness. Our faith is a gift from God – not something that can be produced by us.  We can have confidence in God’s faithfulness, we can prepare, engage, and be involved in our faith, but the action of faithfulness is first God’s (I Jn 5:4; Ro 12:3, Eph 2:8,9). 

 

What a relief.  There is no amount of good works that we can do to earn God’s favour, there is no wickedness we can spew that will cut us off. 

 

Just like Mama in the story assuring the child of her faithfulness, Paul assures us that that no behaviour, no distance, no form will break Mama’s love.  That God our Mama says to us, “I will love you forever and for always, because you are my dear one.”[1]

 

In Jesus’ time, the Greek word for faith was pistis.  In secular language, pistis was referred to as a guarantee or warranty – and faith is essentially God’s warranty, Gods guarantee of Love[2].

 

If God is for us, who can be against us?  We belong to God – sheep of the fold, precious children, beloved.

 

I say it, I say it again: God loves you. 

No matter what.  Not because of what you have done or not done.  Not in spite of the things you have done or not done.  Not because of who you are or are not, but because of who God is.

I say it, I say it again: God loves you. 

 

Amen.


[1] Barbara M. Joosse, Barbara Lavellee, illus., Mama Do You Love Me? (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1991), 35.

[2] Strong’s Concordance #4102 pistis (πίστις, εως, ἡ) word study.

Sermon: "Water All Around" & Noah's Ark: Gifts of Imagination August 25, 2019


7Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. 2Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; 3and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. 4For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground.’5And Noah did all that the Lord had commanded him.

11 In the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. 12The rain fell on the earth for forty days and forty nights. 13On the very same day Noah with his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons, entered the ark, 14they and every wild animal of every kind, and all domestic animals of every kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, and every bird of every kind—every bird, every winged creature. 15They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. 16And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him; and the Lord shut him in.
17 The flood continued for forty days on the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. 18The waters swelled and increased greatly on the earth; and the ark floated on the face of the waters.

6 At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made 7and sent out the raven; and it went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth. 8Then he sent out the dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground; 9but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him. 10He waited another seven days, and again he sent out the dove from the ark; 11and the dove came back to him in the evening, and there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. 12Then he waited another seven days, and sent out the dove; and it did not return to him any more.
13 In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. 14In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. 15Then God said to Noah, 16‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. 17Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’ 18So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives.
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.* 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
— Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 (NRSV)

There are two pieces to today’s sermon: we are going to slow down and get into this story of Noah’s Ark, and then we are going to pull this thread of slowness and understanding through to imagination, taking a look at this ancient practice of Midrash – the making of stories about Biblical stories.

 

Let’s dive in – pun intended!

 

To be honest, I do not love this story, for a few reasons.  One – there is a huge gap between the happy two-by-two rendition we tell children and the reality of God being so fed up with human corruption and violence that They decide to drown everyone and start again.  Don’t get me wrong – I love playing with kids and boats and animals, and teaching the basics of it to children is important.  But we skim past the predicament that got humanity to the point of God throwing in the towel in the first place, and we rarely keep reading to learn about the traumatized Noah after the flood who deals with his post-ark PTSD with generously flowing wine and questionable sexual choices. 

 

Now, many of us never got Noah’s full story after Sunday School, so if your understanding of Noah begins and ends with the colourful animals boarding the ark, we are about to go a little dark here, so brace yourself.

 

In the Scripture leading up to our story today, in Genesis 6, we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (6:5).  Yikes – though I’ll admit, that is an easy perspective to relate to these days if you are following the news at all. 

The Scripture continues: “it grieved him [God] to his heart.” Ouch.  Dang, that’s some guilt y’all.  Also, it is a stark reminder – you mean my bad choices don’t just affect me? 

“So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created – people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’”  What?!  What about the God who knew me before I was born?  The one who knit me together inside my mother’s womb?  The one who calls me precious, beloved child?  This is another reason this story chafes against me – this is not my experience of God.  But someone wise once told me don’t stop at the bits you don’t like or don’t understand – keep reading until you get to love.

Ok, lets keep going.

Wait a minute, says God, wait – there is one, that Noah fellow – I could use him and his family.  Go build a big boat Noah – and he does, with some very specific instructions.  And then the ones on the guest list get in and the Scripture reads that the Lord – Yahweh, God – “shut them in” (7:16).  I actually love that phrase – what a vivid image: God closing up the ark, like Morgan Freeman dressed in white casually lifting up the gangway.  But we will get to the imagination piece in a few minutes – back to the Noah story.

 

The door is closed, the flood waters flow, and the seemingly ceaseless rains begin.  The waters swell and ark carried on its way floating about. 

 

And here, here it gets interesting: as this story continues, it so remarkably parallels the first Creation story in Genesis.  This is something that we might miss but would be very provocative for the Hebrew people.  Let me explain:

In Creation, God said, “let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear,”(1:9) and in the Noah story, ‘the fountains of the great Deep burst forth and the windows of the heavens were opened; (7:11) – the image reminds me of God releasing the original dam – so to speak – he put into place to keep things in order, returning a sense of that primal chaos.

Another parallel comes once the onslaught of water has ceased.  The Creation story reads, “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters,” (1:2) and the Noah story reads, “God made a wind blow over the earth and the waters subsided.” (8:1).

Once they’ve hit land, we have another of these parallels.  God blessed Noah and his sons, the new ancestors of humankind, “and said to them, ‘Be Fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’” (9:1) – the same words that God said to Adam and Eve” ‘Be Fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ (1:28).[1]

 

So here is where this story turns a bit for me - these parallels point out for us that the Flood story is not primarily one of God’s destruction, but rather of God’s RE-CREATION.  When we read the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures as a long story about the relationship between God and God’s people we see patterns – not of angry wrath and destruction, but of broken people and second chances.  When we stay a little while and take the time to notice these details, we can learn a lot about who God is.  Almost nothing in the Old Testament – or the New really – is simple.  Almost nothing can be understood by just skimming the top or letting our knowledge remain in Sunday School territory.  The wisdom of these words demand us to sink deeper and deeper into the waters. 

Which is not really how we do things today.  The culture of these ancient words does not fit well with our modern culture.  These stories require a long chew and a slow process of digestion – rather than a protein shake in a blender that you slam back on your way out the door.  Think of the way a cow eats verses a hungry puppy.

 

And this is where Midrash comes in.  Ancient Midrash is basically a collection of thoughts from Rabbis in history doing a slow cud chew on Scripture. 

And through time, this practice became ingrained in Jewish culture – I studied with a Rabbi who taught us that every reading has 70 faces, and you encounter a new face each time you greet it.  And this is something that Christians – adopted into the people of God – also began to practice.  It is why we refer to Scripture as the living Word, because we understand that God is still speaking to us through these texts by revealing more and new things to us with each generation.

 

What Midrash does is respond to contemporary problems and craft new stories, making connections between new realities and the unchanging Biblical text. 

 

So – what does that actually look like and why is it important or helpful?

 

The story I read to the children today is an example of Midrash.[2]  It is a story about a story – one that we know well – in the Bible that gives us a perspective we might not have otherwise thought of.  Had you considered the Flood from the point of view of the fish?  Had the Noah story ever led you to the conclusion that God must be everywhere, as the Midrash story did?

 

I have another example – have you seen the movie “Evan Almighty”?  God – Morgan Freeman, dressed in white – gets in touch with Evan – an American Congressman – to build an ark in preparation for an upcoming flood.  Much resistance and hilarity ensues as Evan finally capitulates and builds an ark, to the humiliation of his teenagers and at the great scrutiny of his neighbours…let’s take a look at what happens:

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CLICK HERE TO SEE THE CLIP!

 

This is a modern form of Midrash – these images and sounds help us unlock our imaginations to the fullness of this story – the water!  The creaking boat! The violence of the water’s movement!  The speed of the ark moving through that water!  The animal sounds!  The terror of those onboard!

 

The Flood story is not a la-la-la (sing) “Noah and the animals” bedtime story only for children – none of our Bible stories are – they are vivid, shocking, and filled with sensory stimulation if we dare to notice.  And if we let our understanding stay in the simplistic, surface level meanings, Scripture doesn’t change our lives.  It doesn’t push into new depths of love and understanding. 

 

This practice of making something new from our Scriptural tradition – of holding the old and the new gives us the chance to step into and soak in the story and stay long enough for our fingers to get wrinkly.  For our hearts to be changed.

 

We have all been gifted with imaginations.  I know this because I see it demonstrated in a thousand different ways: through art, play, music; through knitted patterns and quilted masterpieces.  In carefully planned gardens, measured and organized toolsheds, tenderly crafted meals.  In every novel we read or tv show we watch we are igniting our imaginations; of course we should use that gift in our faith as well!

 

So I would invite you, this week, to pull out your Bibles and turn to a story you think you know very well – one you could likely tell to a child without the text.  Jesus feeding the 5,000 with two loaves and five fish.  The fishermen catching nothing after being out all night and Jesus tells them to drop their nets on the other side from which they haul in their biggest catch.  The Crucifixion.  Even if you are new to this church thing, or returning after a while away, you likely know the story of The Good Samaritan.  So pull it out and read it.  Then read it again.  Then read it again, but this time be on the hunt for sound.  Then read it again thinking of the smells all around.  Then read it again – is there food?  What would that have tasted like?  Did the characters touch – what would those cloths have felt like?  You don’t need to know the answers to imagine or wonder what those would be like.  And I will guarantee that if you sit and bathe in the story just a little while, giving yourself time to get wrinkly fingers, something profound and holy will happen.  You will notice details that you could’ve sworn were never there before.  You see, when we enter into that creative place we are entering into a space with the One who created and is still creating.  The one who yearns to share more with us, to draw us in, and who planted in us this terrific capacity to broaden and broaden and broaden.  To learn and grow and be changed.  The one who floods our hearts with love and second chances, who desires our re-creation, and gives us every new – sometimes painful – opportunity to begin again.  And who promises – marked by that glorious colourful bow in the sky, never, never to leave us.

 

Can I get an Amen?

 

 


 


[1] Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 65.

[2] Marc Gellman and Oscar de Mejo, “Water All Around,” Does God Have a Big Toe? (New York: Harper Collins, 1989), 27-29.

Sermon: "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" & The Arrest of Jesus: Gifts of Humility August 11, 2019

47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” 49 When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” 50 Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit?

 

(Message: 51 Jesus said, “Let them be. Even in this.” Then, touching the servant’s ear, he healed him.)
— Luke 22: 47-52 (NRSV)

Great God of steadfast love,   1 Kgs. 3:6

we study your works and delight in your ways.         Ps. 111:2

Illumine our understanding by your Holy Spirit,       Eph. 5:18

that we may reverence your name and grow in your wisdom.          Ps. 111:10

Amen.

 

If you haven’t been here in a few weeks – this will seem very strange – why has Ingrid chosen the story of Jesus’ arrest before his crucifixion in the middle of Summer?  Don’t we do that in the Spring sometime?  Like just before Easter?

Yes!

We definitely do – and yes, it is a totally strange time of year to read it.  We have been recounting the last week of Jesus’ life, focusing on some of the tiny details that undergird the very big and important things that happen.  Little bits that are important but sometimes get lost in the telling of the big and overarching story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

 

Today we heard about the way Jesus was arrested, before his trial and subsequent execution – just a reminder, Sunday he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, Monday, flipping tables, Tuesday: confrontation with the Scribes and Pharisees, Wednesday: Judas plans to betray him and the anonymous woman anoints him with oil; Thursday: Last Supper.  It is now the middle of the night and they have come to arrest him.

 

Today I would like to take our camera lens out and set our focus in on the disciples.

Last week we learned about Jesus’ Last Supper and shared in the sacrament of Communion together. 

In that last meal with his friends, Jesus modeled self-giving love – he was the one who served, he offered them wine and bread; he invited them to share and to remember, as they enacted the beginning of a new covenant of life together.

 

Yet even as he poured himself out for them in that sacred holy moment, they failed. 

At the table was Judas, the one who would give Jesus over to the authorities.

At the table Jesus warned Peter that he would deny him three times.

 

Setting the stage for our reading today, they all set out, moving to the Mount of Olives.  Jesus instructed the disciples to stay alert! and pray, and then retreated to pray on his own.  And what happened?  He came back from his own prayer time to find them sleeping!  They failed again.

 

And then in today’s selection – a crowd arrived, Judas at the front and he leaned in to kiss Jesus – a betrayal in the intimate act of friendship.  And the others?  Had they learned anything from Jesus?  Peter grabbed a sword and cut off ear of the assistant to the High Priest!

 

The disciples failed to understand, all through the Gospel stories of Jesus earthly ministry.  And they fail even up to the very end of Jesus’ life.  They fail and fail and fail, highlighting for us the dramatic contrast between the Kingdom of God and the Prison of our own selfishness and our own inability to do what is right on our own.

The disciples learn the depths of their weakness, their frailty, and their need for a strength beyond their own.

 

And what about our caterpillar today?  He starts out well – an apple, couple of pears, few plums…but whoa Saturday?  Chocolate cake, ice cream, salami, sausage, pie, candy – and then a whole lot of regret.  Caterpillars know what they are supposed to eat, and yet our little friend failed to do what he knew he should be doing.

 

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And if that were the full expression of our story, it would be very bad news indeed – you will fail, even when your intentions are good.  You will screw stuff up, important stuff, at critical times, right in front of God.

 

But that isn’t our story.  Our story is one of second, third, 589th chances. 

Yes, at the table of the Last Supper was the one who would give Jesus over to the authorities, yet Jesus did not withhold the bread and wine.  Yes, Jesus warned Peter that he would deny him three times, yet he did not cast him away, but rather urged him to return once his failure was complete, to strengthen the others. 

Even after all that time teaching love, mercy, forgiveness, and non-violence: when they came to arrest him and Peter pulled out the sword and used it, Jesus jumped up and said NO!  But he didn’t send Peter away, he healed the man’s ear saying, “Let them be, even in this” (V. 51, MSG).

 

 

And can you just picture Peter as he is corrected in this way?  The anguish screwing up his face as he realizes what he has done – how could I have done this, I know better. Maybe it is the same sorry face we saw on the caterpillar after his frenzied day of binge eating.  How could I have done this, I know better.

 

Over and over again, throughout the stories of Jesus in all the Gospels, the disciples don’t measure up.  Don’t get me wrong, they do plenty right – they drop those nets and follow, they go where he leads them, they listen and learn and try and work. 

But left to their own devices they cannot do what is right – Paul writes about this very thing in Romans, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I do not do the good I want to do.” (Romans 7: 15, 19 NRSV).

 

But the good news here is that we are never told that we need to do this on our own.  We are assured time and time again that Jesus is here and Jesus is for us and God will give us the strength we need to live out our call as Christians, as disciples of Christ, so long as we keep coming back, we keep seeking, we keep trying. 

 

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I don’t know about you, but those disciples?  Those are my people – I get them.  I try, and I have the best of intentions and when push comes to shove, I can so easily forget all the things I know and believe and teach…and I step in it again.  And that caterpillar?  Starting out with fruit, vegetables…only to follow it up with pie and cupcakes and the like?  I know this story all too well.

And the response is the same – whether literal or figurative, the disciples and the caterpillar – and me too – we feel awful after having done the wrong thing, especially because we know the right thing, because we spend time and energy, we spend our lives trying to follow. 

 

And yet, the disciples didn’t just end there – and neither do we. This story highlights for us, yes, the depths of their weakness, the depths of our own weakness, but it also shows us that no matter what terrible things we do, Jesus is there with us.

 

Even there in Garden, the sweaty, adrenaline filled moment in the dark of his very last night, bloody ear in hand, Jesus remains with them and for them, healing the wounds they inflicted, correcting the mistake, forgiving.  Even after the gluttonous extravaganza of the caterpillar, he is led back on course, given another chance, and eats the nice green leaf and feels better.

 

That is why today’s sermon is called Gifts of Humility – humility means to be teachable – and that is faith in Jesus.  To know that we can be taught, that we can screw it up again and again, even in the most dire of circumstances, and Jesus can catch our attention, heal the wounds we have inflicted, and teach us about love.

 

Now, all this talk about all the ways we have, do, and will mess up and fail, might sound like a discouraging word – but I promise you, it is not.  The recognition of our own weakness is paradoxically our greatest source of strength, not no mention a huge relief. 

We will not get it right all the time, we are not expected to be perfect – we are not God. 

 

The disciples learned the depths of their weakness, their frailty, and their need for a strength beyond their own.  In our day-to-day living, we too encounter our own failings, and come face to face with the reality that we need a strength greater than our own.

 

And we have it.  That strength is here, it is with us, it is for us.

With the spirit of humility – teachability – we can grow, we can learn, we can be the church, just as Peter did. 

 

Because despite all of our denials, our betrayals, our violent outbursts and sneaky backstabbing, Jesus still shows up for us, still calls us to be his body on earth, his church.  Shockingly Peter becomes the rock on which all of this is built.  Shockingly, the caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly – and perhaps, so will we.

 

Amen.

Sermon: "Stuck" & The Institution of Communion: Gifts of Adaptation August 4, 2019

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” 20 He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread[a] into the bowl[b] with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood of the[c] covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
— Mark 14: 12-26 NRSV

God of Love and Justice,                                                                  Col. 2:8, 10;

we are grateful for inheriting the tradition of                           John 1:14

the Scriptures.

By your Holy Spirit, speak to us through your Word,

that we may know the love and grace of Jesus Christ,

your living Word made flesh among us.  Amen.

 

If you were here last week, or if you listened in online, you will have heard the Scripture that came right before today’s reading.  Just a quick recap:

 

Jesus had, on Sunday, ridden into town on his donkey to the shouts of “Hosanna!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” while palm leaves were laid on his path (11:8-10), Palm Sunday.  And then on Monday, he went into the Temple and freaked out, flipping tables over and calling people out for their behaviour.  Tuesday, he had crowds of people all around as he was confronted by the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious elites, and they challenged each other’s authority – the crowds swelling in support of Jesus, “delighting” (12:37) in his teaching as he denounced the leaders.  Last week’s Scripture was Wednesday, where the plot to destroy Jesus was being confirmed and he had been anointed for burial by an unnamed woman.

 

Today Mark’s story of Jesus’ last week moves toward its climax: our reading from today comes on Thursday, and the events that were set up on Wednesday begin to unfold. 

 

Remember, this is the last day before Jesus was crucified, it is full of drama: we have his final meal with his disciples, Jesus prays for deliverance in Gethsemane; he is betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by the rest of his disciples.  Each of these last days are packed with events and layers and layers of meaning.

 

In the church we call that week leading up to Easter Holy Week, and we call this remembrance Maundy Thursday, Maundy meaning new commandment, and it is about the way the Sacrament of Communion, also known as the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, was established in the church.  And that is where I want us to focus our attention today.

 

First of all, what is Communion anyway?  We can be long-time church-y people and still learn more and more about this thing we do. 

It is, quite literally, a thanksgiving meal – Eucharistos – the Greek word, means thanksgiving, gratitude.  And honestly, it is something the church has been fighting over basically since the beginning – how to do it, what it means, who gets to preside at it, who gets to receive it.

We are not covering all of that debate today – happy to refer you to a Church History class or give you some books to read from mine if you are interested.

 

Today though, I want to get at the heart of the matter.  We understand the church – the gathered group of Jesus lovers – to be Christ’s body on earth.  In the simplest terms, it is in our receiving of this sacrament, named by Jesus as his body, that we, together, become the body of Christ.  We are made one in the Spirit through this receiving. 

Communion is an intimate sharing, an exchange – we heard this morning about this intimacy shared between Jesus and his disciples that nourished the disciples individually and bound them to their Lord and each other.  That is essentially still what it is today: a way to bind us to one another and God, as taught by Jesus.

 

And that is essentially why we do it: because Jesus told us to.  And what the church through the ages has learned, is that he told us to for good reason.  It broadens our understanding of life beyond the physical, it refreshes us by giving us a connection to a depth of life and meaning that we wouldn’t otherwise have.  Jesus knew that in his absence we would need a ritual, a symbol to represent that which we could no longer see – a space and a place to encounter God in a tactile way that points beyond. 

When we gather together and share in the loaf and cup, we engage with what God started long ago, and what God continues to do today.  And it reminds us of who we are – we are the people of God.

 

So, we’ve got the what and the why – and we will do the how here in a little bit.  But it wouldn’t be a Sacrament if there wasn’t an element of mystery involved.  St. Augustine defined a Sacrament as: a visible sign of God’s invisible Grace.  It is a sacred act through which Jesus invites us into his own life.  And it is through this act, each time we partake, that the church is renewed because somehow, we together are made into something greater than ourselves.

Ordinary things – bread, juice – are representative of something extraordinary and somehow transform us ordinary things into the extraordinary people of God.

 

And I love this notion of ordinary things (us, bread, Welch’s grape juice) being claimed, made beautiful, holy, extraordinary. 

But Ingrid!  (you may say), Ingrid!  Isn’t all of God’s Creation precious and holy?  Don’t we live in a sacramental universe?

Yes.

I love this understanding – that all of this is sacred and sacramental – all of it points to God. Ooooh, and then I get that song playing in my head ‘take, take off your shoes, you’re standing on holy ground’

But Ingrid! (you may say) Ingrid!

‘Why bother with the Eucharist – Communion - if I can encounter Christ every time I eat a soft, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie?’ (And really, who hasn’t felt a touch of the divine in a soft, warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie??!!) 

Why bother with this strange thing Jesus did with his disciples over 2000 years ago?

Well, all of my years of seminary training – and there were many of them – all of my years taught me about this thing.  How it started, why we do it, the bits that we need to include when we do it. 

But the why bother with this specific thing is so profoundly shaped by my own personal experiences in sharing this ancient sacred mysterious meal.

These instances have taught me that something different does happen in the receiving of the bread and the juice at church.  I want to share one of those stories with you – one of the spiritual experiences I have had during Communion.

Todd and I had been married about seven months, and we were visiting my Mom on Bowen Island, as we often did, to have breakfast with her and go to church at the Little Red Church in the apple orchard.  We were celebrating that day, as we had just found out that I was expecting our first child.  In worship, we were participating in the sacrament of Communion, and as I received the bread, dipped it into the juice, took it into my mouth and began to pray, I was struck with a powerful and resounding understanding that I was also offering this Communion to the teeny life that was growing in my womb.  And in that moment, I understood that God already had a relationship with this new wee human and, whoever they were to be, they were partaking in this mystery that was beyond my own understanding.

 

God took this ancient sacrament and used it to begin to change me into a mother. 

Maybe it is this experience that led me to call this sermon, “Gifts of Adaptation”- the definition of adaptation being “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment”.  Let me read that again, “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.”  Communion gives us the mechanism to become better suited to be followers of Jesus.

 

Now how about that book “Stuck”?  I love the absurdity of that story – I love children’s books for their suspension of laws of physics and their play with the imaginative possible.  Because it is in their play that they are able to point us to bigger things. 

Thinking back to the story, I want to ask you to consider for a moment, who in this story can you relate to the most?  They boy whose kite got stuck?  Do you have a problem that no matter how much other crap you throw at, never seems to get resolved?  What about Mitch the cat, who gets tossed into a problem without any understanding of why, or what he has to do with it, or any idea of a solution?  Maybe you can identify with one of the firefighters – you show up to help with a big problem, only to get stuck in the problem yourself?  Or are you the rhinoceros, left up in the problem, after the instigator has taken off and gone to bed?

 

We all get stuck.  We get stuck because of our own accidents, of our own poor choices.  We get stuck because of others’ poor choices.  We get stuck because of circumstances beyond our control, and we get stuck because we misuse the tools we have in hand – remember, Floyd at one point had a saw in his hand, and rather than cut down the tree, he tossed it up too!

We all get stuck.

The disciples got stuck too – they betrayed Jesus, abandoned him, denied they were with him.

 

We all get stuck.

 

But you know what?  God doesn’t get stuck.  God doesn’t get stuck, and better yet, God has hand delivered this mechanism for getting us un-stuck.

 

 

 

Communion is the key that unlocks the mystery of God who is desperately trying to get our attention to let us know how loved we are.  Communion is the tool we have to realign ourselves with God’s will for us.  Communion is the process of change by which we become better suited to our call as disciples of Christ, our method of adaptation to the Christian way of life.

 

And Jesus doesn’t say – this isn’t for Judas, I know what you are up to, or hey Peter – hands off, I see what’s coming.  There are no stipulations by Jesus marking those who are in and out from this meal.  He shares it with all present, no matter how stuck they are.  No matter how broken they are.  No matter what they have done or what they are about to do.

 

“Take,” he says, “Take, this is my body.”  Take me, he says. 

“Drink,” he urges, “Drink and know a new way.”

 

And in a few minutes, I will invite you to this table.  Not my table.  Not the table of St. George’s United Church or the United Church of Canada.  I will invite you to the table where Jesus is all at once the host, the participant, and the adaptor.  We are welcomed to the table by God, a place where we have the opportunity to encounter God, and we are then digested by God and made into people of the light.

 

No matter who you are, what you have done or are about to do.  No matter what you believe or what doubts you have, you are welcome at this table.  And it is at this table, in this simple sharing of these ordinary things, something beyond our understanding takes place, and we are transformed, adapted, un-stuck, into the precious, holy, extraordinary children of God that we were born to be.

 

Can I get an Amen?