The Christmas Pageant: The Telling of the Christmas Story. Oshawa’s Best Christmas Pageant. You will not want to miss out on this. Performance will take place on December 24th, 2017 at 10am. All are welcome. Share this experience with others, bring your family and friends.
A man is cooking eggs in the kitchen for a nice summer morning breakfast when his wife comes running in. Immediately, she sees the eggs and gasps in horror.
“Be careful! CAREFUL! Put in some more butter! Oh, my no no no no!” The husband, was startled by his wife’s strong reaction hurries over to the fridge to get some butter.
“You’re cooking too many at once. TOO MANY! Turn them! TURN THEM NOW!” The husband now worried about his wife’s mental state forgets about the butter and goes running to the eggs on the stove.
“WE NEED BUTTER! Are you CRAZY??? Where are we going to get the butter? They’re going to stick! HURRY!” The husband runs to the fridge once more and the stops.
“CAREFUL about the eggs! CAREFUL. You NEVER listen to me when you’re cooking! Never! Turn them quickly! Oh, not that quickly, don’t you know how to cook? Are you nuts? Turn the EGGS!”
At this point, the husband is, tense and frustrated. His hands are starting to shake, he can’t get the words from his brain to his mouth and he is still in front of the fridge. He has no idea what to do.
The importance of building character is not something new. Socrates, over two and half centuries ago stated, that “Nobody has become a good person by chance. We need to learn it. Yes, we build who we are on the inside much like we would build a house outside. It takes time, other people to help and it is all built on a strong foundation. Character is at the core of who you and I are. What is there, and what is not there matters. The content of your character matters.
Before I was ordained and still working as a police officer in New Scotland Yard, London in the UK I used to work as a volunteer bereavement counsellor for a local hospice near where we lived in south London. Amid all the grief and tears of the bereaved relatives the one common factor I discovered was fear – fear of what had become of their loved one, fear of what life was going to be like alone (one of the specific fears of widows in particular was the finances – “my husband had always looked after all that”), fear of being abandoned by friends and just about afraid of everything to come in the future, especially their own deaths.
And fear is not just confined to those suffering bereavement, it is endemic in our human natures and it pervades our society – political parties play upon it (especially on the immigration issue), adverts on TV and in the media use it to sell their products (particularly in the medical field), bullies in school and on the Internet delight in it and, whether or not we like to admit it, we are all influenced by it to a greater or lesser extent. It can become like a cancer in our systems and can lead to low self-esteem where bullying, paranoia, stress and an inability to trust others become the norm for those suffering badly from fear and lack of self-confidence.
It is not surprising then that Jesus tries to deal with this matter not only in our Gospel reading this morning but elsewhere on many occasions. As we saw in Ian’s sermon last week this 14th Chapter of John’s Gospel is all about Jesus wanting to reassure us that there is nothing to fear. You will recall from last week that the chapter opens with his saying to the disciples “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and towards the end he repeats those words in verse 27 and adds “and do not be afraid”. And in our reading this morning he seeks to reassure the disciples who were anxious and worried about his predicting his death and eventual Ascension from this world which we celebrate this coming Thursday. In his stead he promises to send them another Advocate who will be with them and us forever – the spirit of truth. I will not leave you as orphans, says Jesus, I will come to you and because I live, you also will live.
Lovely words of encouragement aren’t they? And, of course, they were not just for Jesus’ disciples then, they are for his disciples down the centuries to us, his disciples today. Jesus affirms this both in his words to Thomas after the disciple had felt the wounds in Jesus’ resurrected body and declared his faith. ”Blessed are those”, says Jesus, “who have not seen and yet have believed”. Also in his great prayer in the 17th Chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus states “My prayer is not for my disciples alone, I pray for those who will believe in me through their message.” That’s us, wherever we are in our fears and worries, we have Jesus’ blessing and reassurance that he prayed for each and every one of us and he is with us through his sending to us His Advocate, the Holy Spirit, The Spirit of truth.
If we require more confirmation of this, we need look no further than our other readings this morning. In his speech to The Areopagus in Athens Paul tells his hearers all about their Unknown God, ‘how he gives all of us life and breath and everything else and how in Him we live and move and have our being’. And Peter in his letter to the church in Rome, “Do not fear what they fear and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord”. Encouraging words for the disciples but what about the “they” Peter talks about? From what he says elsewhere he is talking about people who are anti God and anti-faith in Him and His Son Jesus Christ – the very same people Jesus mentions in our Gospel reading who cannot receive the spirit of truth who comes from Jesus – “This is the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees him nor knows him.”
And this brings me back to my bereavement counselling days – the reason so many of my clients could not come to terms with their fears was that they were stuck in the secularist norm of neither seeing nor knowing Jesus through His Spirit. I longed to tell them the reassurance we and they all have in our Lord and Saviour but realised it was not the time to do that. However, they were constant sources of prayer and I know many of them became aware of and came closer to God through the reassuring Spirit of Truth emanating from His Son Jesus. May we in our spiritual journeys come closer to Jesus, receive Hi Spirit of truth in our hearts and minds and know that we have no need to fear or worry because of what he has for us and continues to do. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not be afraid”. Amen.
Why did he do it? (Seeing the heart of another matters)
One of the things that makes me scratch my head on Easter Sunday is, why? Why would Jesus do this? What is his the reason or his purpose? Why we do things often says more than words and actions. The way our heart moves matters.
If you are married and your spouse comes home and says to you, “You know what, I was on my way home and I just felt the need to stop off and get you something. I picked up the flowers you like, and these premium chocolates.” Then they give you a big hug and a big kiss and says “I just want you to know I love you.” What is your first reaction? Shock, and wonder. You would probably be thinking, “What did you do or what did you buy.“ Right? You figure there is probably a new boat in the driveway, a new car on the way or something else that you are afraid to imagine, but oh boy is your head trying to figure it out because something must be up.
On the other hand, if your wife (Sorry ladies) goes shopping and the first thing she says to you when she gets back is, “Can you guess how much money I saved today?” Are you excited about how much money she saved? No. (Personally, I have heard that phrase quite a bit in my marriage.) On the inside you are starting to freak out because she is telling you the good side of the story first. What are you buttering me up for here?
Why we do things matters more than our words and actions. The way our heart moves matters.
My son is 3 and my daughter is 7. They have just entered the phase where they drive each other nuts, and drag their mother and I along for the ride. I was hoping they would get along wonderfully for ever. I was hoping to live a Leave it to Beaver kind of life. They just annoy each other all day. They complain all the time that one does not play the right way. They mess each others stuff up. They even mess up my stuff too. Not Mom’s so much. I think they both know better. The one time they are consistently nice to each other is first thing in the morning. Morgan gets Alec a drink of juice. Alec says, ‘thank you Morgan’ and they both eat reasonably quietly together most mornings. If you come to my place in the morning you would likely say, “Wow your kids really do love each other. Look at that.” But why they are behaving this way makes all the difference. Alec does not want to do anything in the morning. He just wants his sister, or Dad on occasion, to get him what he wants so he can play Lego’s or watch T.V. in peace. Morgan just wants her little brother to be quiet and leave her alone.
Why we do things matters more than our words and actions. The way our heart moves matters.
When people do things for selfish reasons we are not really impressed. However, when we see people with good, selfless reasons, – and they are doing something just for you, no strings attached, – you are seriously impressed. If you have ever had someone do something thoughtful just for you, you will remember that. It will stick with you for the rest of your life. You can not forget them. The reason was solely for you and your benefit. This is kind of what our Family Friday ministry is all about. The way our heart moves matters.
Years ago when Koulla and I were still living in my mother’s basement we would have friends over every Sunday afternoon. I was working shift work at that time, and I generally did not get a lot of time with my wife or my friends. What is worse, is I do not really like people doing things for me. I have a really hard time receiving gifts. This one Sunday I was exhausted and the bank account was less than full, but I still wanted my friends around. I wanted a barbeque and a beer, but I could not afford the time or money to go to the store to get the needed. Then the door bell rang. All of my friends arrived. We told them we could not do what we normally do. They said they knew, and that is why they brought the best meat they could find from the butchers and a couple of beers. I was told to sit down this time. They were cooking. They did not need to do any of that. They just did it. I will never forget it. It was completely selfless on their part, and it fed my soul.
When we see the heart of another, is stays with us. The way our heart moves matters.
What was Jesus’ motivation
Jesus’s reason, the why he did what he did, with the cross and resurrection, was complete and perfect love for you. Not just for the clergy. Not just for the choir, the other people in robes and children. God’s love is for each of us. The reason he chose the cross is because he loves you. God gave his son to the world – to you – for your benefit. It is the ultimate action of selflessness. It is the ultimate expression of love for us – for you. God gave his Son – All that God is and has Himself – for us … for you. There is nothing that compares. God became us, to give up his life, to free us. Let that sink in a bit because it is amazing.
God’s love is selfless. That is just the way it is. That is what we get. When we think, talk or act in Godly love we do so for the sole benefit of the other. This also means that God’s love is given, grown and experienced through relationships. Your relationship with God and your relationships with others. The relationship matters because that is where love resides.
That does not mean that we will always have lovey dovey times. No. Does that mean that we only say things that others want to hear. No. There are times that love is just plain hard. These are the times that we are called to say something true, and we will be met with resistance. Truth is not always easy to accept and share, but it does help to build a relationship with God. The concern is not to be right and to beat the other up with truthful reality. At that point it is not love. That is judgement. This is what Jesus the Christ did for us. Complete, full, 100% selfless love for us. This is why Jesus freely chose the cross and resurrection.
Jesus wants to continue to restore your relationship with God. Jesus knew you and I are broken. Jesus knew that we have issues that separate us from God. God took the initiative, God took the chance to correct it and fix it, so you could actually be with God again. The stuff that drew you away from God in the past. It is stuck in the past. There are no time machines. It does not matter how much good you do in the future, the past ugliness – what we call sin – will always be there. We are all stuck with it.
Now listen to this next part. Really dial in and listen. Jesus did not come and say, “Get yourself right and then I will die for you fixing this whole thing.” Instead Jesus says, “I know you are stuck and I already know you are broken. You can’t clean yourself up, so I am going to take care of it for you.” That is the way it works because that is the way God’s love works. First we go to God the way we are, not the way we want to be. We often think, “I better clean myself up first and then get to God.” Or more the more popular, “I better get my act together before I can go to church.” That is backwards. No. First, we go to God, just as we are, and then we get straightened out. We celebrate Easter because our relationship with God is restored.
If there is a part of you that still thinks there is a wall between you and God, then Easter Day, today is the day that the wall is removed. You and I can truly call God your friend because of the resurrection. We are even called sons and daughters as part of his family.
The other thing he did was to give you a purpose. God knows that we can not take our stuff with us when we die. So if you have been playing a really great game of, “who ever has the most toys at the end wins.” I got bad news for you. That is a life filled with hopelessness. Jesus gives you something to live for. Not only does Jesus die for us to restore our relationship with him, but we are given a new purpose that matters in this life and the next too. In a real, tangible way we are new people with new lives. God offers each of us this chance. It does not matter who you are or what you’ve done, or what has happened to you, God is offering a chance at a new start. Right here. Right now. God has already taken those things in the past away and started you out new.
God has given us the job of helping others reconcile with God. Our purpose is to help others restore their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We speak for Christ when we invite others to come back to God, or when we lovingly speak truth. This is our purpose. This is your purpose. This is amazing and it is powerful. Without the resurrection, we do not have this.
The life, death and resurrection is a gift presented to you. It is a gift that Jesus put out there for each of us … for you personally. The reason behind it is infinite and unbelievable love for you. The purpose is to give you a chance at a more God filled life which is a chance at the most robust full life imaginable. Easter marks that day that are all given a shot at a new life, to start over. That is why we are all here. Take this gift. Let go of the old, comfortable, painful life and exchange it for the life that God wants to give you. The resurrection gives life meaning, direction and the opportunity to start over no matter what the circumstances. This is the reason Jesus chose the cross and resurrection and it is reason to be joyful too. Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Today in our sermon series on Addressing Death the topic is on providing care. For me, this is a very difficult thing to talk about. That may seem strange to come from a minister, but it is the truth.
I have never had to directly care for another near end of life for an extended period of time. I have had some very difficult experiences to deal with both personally and professionally. I have not directly felt or experienced what it is like to care for a spouse or immediate family member when it comes to failing health and death. The closest I have come is to tell the doctors to stop the machines when my late grandmother was failing many years ago. My mother was overseas at the time. My two aunts agreed with the course of action but could not bring themselves to say or do it themselves. My sister was the same. I was the one, the youngest of all of them, who spoke for the family. I was the one who did what needed to be done. I was the one who took the misplaced darts of anger, grief and sorrow from my family.
The readings from this morning address two key things in our series on Addressing Death. Today we are going to take some time to reflect on what we mean by autonomy and suffering. These two things, autonomy and suffering, are key idea’s when it comes to us being disciples of Jesus Christ, and trusting in God with all your, “heart soul mind and strength.”
All around the rectory are plastic plugs in the electrical sockets. At first, I detested them since getting them out of the socket is a real pain. I do not really want the plastic covers on the outlets yet, if I want my children to live past the age of three, I need to put them in. Curious children with forks approaching open electrical sockets are enough to scare any parent, grandparent or other family member into preventative action. We love these crazy little people and do not want any harm to come to them.
Baptism, Death and Life in Between – Based on John 3:5-8
In September of last year Margaret and I got talking after a Sunday Service as we usually do. We shared our insights of the parish, ministry and life in general. This conversation was particularly interesting since we were just starting to wrestle with the Canadian Government policy change on end of life care. Since mid-June 2016 when Bill C-14-passed “Medical Assistance in Dying” it is now legal in Canada to choose medical assistance in dying – under set circumstances. Regardless of whether you personally agree or disagree with this decision as a parish, we need to take time to reflect and understand this new reality. We may be personally faced with this decision at some point. We could have family members of friends considering this choice. We could end up with fellow parishioners who consider this as an option where we are called to pastorally respond to the situation.
We may not have chosen this decision yet we are all called to begin to sort out how to navigate new and uncharted waters of our collective lives of faith. For the next 5 weeks, we will be reflecting on some uncomfortable and needed topics. This series is based on Rev. Margaret Johnston-Jones’s, our fantastic Honorary Assistant’s work with the National Church. I am personally grateful for her work in this area … even if I get to do most of the homilies.
There are times in each of our lives where we regret not being prepared. For me, this was one of those weeks. Once a month I visit Wynfield Retirement residence and do a service for about 10 people. I take a travel communion kit and a copy of the readings for Sunday with me to use in the service. This week, I neglected to review the readings prior to my arrival. I thought to myself, “There will be nothing surprising since the Gospel reading is part of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.” Then I began to read the Gospel to the residents. Oh, how I wished they were all deaf or sleeping. It would have made my life so much easier.
Later in the week I sat down to investigate more deeply what was going on in Matthew. I have a personal stake in this – my parents divorced many years ago. While I have not always had a great relationship with my Father I do not want my Dad to go to hell, or for my mother to suffer any more consequences of something that happened a life time ago. A good and just God would not punish these people in this way, right?
As I prayed, re-read and studied this passages I began to get a little upset. How can I operate in the world if I am not allowed to vent my anger? When I am angry and upset with someone, I want to pray about what to do and not talk with the person I am upset with. I might make it worse, or I may get worse. To top it all off, Jesus’s stance on divorce is firmly rooted in the Old Testament and does not appear to give any wiggle room on the matter. Divorce happens when lies and lust take root and begin to choke out the beautiful plant of marriage. Jesus is taking a clear and extreme stance and we are left to twist in the wind. Thanks Jesus for intending to send my Dad, who is broken like the rest of us, to hell. God’s judgment appears to be arbitrary, and will eventually catch up with you in the end. What is really going on here because it does not sound quite right to me.
One of the striking things about this entire passage is the extreme nature of it. Caught yourself looking at a pretty boy or girl too long … pluck your eyes out. That is extreme. This extreme tone permeates through the entire passage. This is a rhetorical style that drives home a point. It would be impossible to avoid the impulse of noticing an attractive person. However, we are called to avoid the long gaze and lust filled imagination that follows … and yes, we have all done that from time to time. We have all been angry with another person, and we have all had to reconcile with someone too. The point in all this is not to get bogged down in endless debates about what precisely is allowed. We know what is right and wrong, and we are called to do our best to hold to these standards as best we can. We are also called to love, forgive and reconcile with ourselves and each other as best we can too.
My parents are as reconciled as they can be. Forgiveness has been offered and received by both sides. I have reconciled with my father and forgiven him, as he has done for me, for things I had done. This stuff is to be worked on now, and not in some distant time far in the future. God’s process of judgement begins now, and continues each day after that. So, don’t give up on yourself or others. God, in Jesus hasn’t and neither can you. I do not believe a good, just and loving God would condemn my family in light of all this faithful work of restoration and reconciliation – work that Jesus commands too.
Discipleship in community
When we read this section of Matthew we tend to focus on the individual directives that are laid out for us. There is nothing wrong with this, and the scripture itself lends to this kind of initial reading to be sure. When you move your focus back from the individual examples something new comes to the forefront. This thing is what binds the reading together and each of together. Our sense of belonging to a community of faith is holds each piece together. If the individual examples are concerned with what is right and wrong for an individual, the collective story is how a faith community is called to account, support and lovingly nurture each disciple.
Nothing we do as Christians, believers of Jesus Christ, is an autonomous action. What you do and what you say … how you live influences those around you. When we remember that there are others around us our actions begin to shape who we are as a community. This is part of the reason that we need to pray for and with each other.
What you do and say with your individual faith actually matters. It matters to the people sitting next to you in the pew every Sunday. It matters to your family, friends, and children. It matters to you too.
Two weeks ago a man came to Family Friday’s well before we were ready to eat. He was not well kept. He was meek and had a sad, depressed way about him. He entered the hall quietly. I stopped talking with the caterer, turned around and greeted him. I asked him if he was staying for a bite to eat, and I asked him if he was okay.
He was not. He could not stay for dinner. He told me that he was moved by what we are doing. He told me how much the program means to him and his friends. He told me that he believes in God and was having a really rough time. A friend of his, who came with him to Family Friday’s last year, committed suicide. His group of friends are having a really hard time with this and they don’t’ know what to do, … so they drink a lot. They don’t know how to deal with what is going on in them and around them. I asked if I could say a short prayer with him. Standing in an empty hall, in the door way to the stairs we prayed. He cried. He could not talk. He reached in his pocket, took out 6 dollars – all that he had on him – and placed it in the basket. He wanted no food, but he wanted to give back because we had given to him and his friend last year. I offered to speak with him and his friends to see if we could sort out where God was in all this, and to help connect them to services in the area that might be able to help. He only said, “Thank you, thank you …. Thank you.” This man lives in the house across the street.
When you leave this building, and share your faith in God, you are sharing more than just you and your beliefs. You are sharing a relationship and a claim of Godly connection. You are sharing this community of faith. You share God with the other person. This may feel heavy – and it is – and it is part of what it means to be part of this parish. When that man entered the hall, he was looking for more than a soft shoulder and a listening ear. He was looking to connect to God in someway – and I was privileged to be there and help connect him. He knew he needed help to see the truth of what was going on in him and around him. He needed a community of faithful people to connect with. He needs each one of you too.
Communal life means that we follow Jesus together. It means that faith and belief are not only private affairs and that there is a right, and a wrong. There is no way to do what Jesus will ask of you, and reach your full potential, without community with you and beside you. The community helps each person figure out what is right and what is wrong – and helps to remind us that we are forgiven when we fall short of Jesus’s demands too. Even more than this, when you realize that your potential as a disciple, who you are called to be, is not just dependant upon you and solely rests on your should, but is helped by another, it is then that you begin to believe it.
This may seem obvious to you, but this is very hard to speak and live out. The modern age favors and rewards individualism, autonomy, and independence. When we speak about communal right and wrongs, community and dependence on others, we will not be sharing popular messages. We will need to be prepared for questioning and resistance, or even a flat-out rejection of Jesus’s demands because they go against what the world favors and values.
When we remember that God is with us, not just that God is with me, we begin to realize we are not simply members of community but shapers of that community too. The shape of this community proclaims a critical thing that is absolutely true, – our God is a God of community, this community right here right now. In this community, we are called to support each other, and hold each other accountable in forgiving love, kindness and grace … just as Jesus does. Amen.