A Weighty Confession

A Sizable Confession

I have a confession to make.  I am horrible at losing weight and keeping it off.  My goal this year is to lose 10 pounds.  I only have 15 more to go.  There are times that I wake up excited and full of energy to tackle this important task of getting into good physical shape, and by noon I am frustrated.  I mean I had been controlling my urge to eat unnecessary things all morning and I do not have a six-pack yet!  I know that losing weight is a constant battle of self denial, and consistent intentional good choices for the rest of my life.  Perhaps, the battle is the problem.  I am a lover not a fighter.  I am a lover of cheese flavoured snacks.

No Ian keep on track, I tell myself.  I am going to lose this belly.  I am going to exercise everyday.  I am going to watch what I eat and stick to it ….  Are those nachos?  After all, I only seem to remember I want to lose weight after eating them.   Perhaps I should just stop the complaining and pick up my, eat my fork salad and be sad.  If losing weight was as easy as losing my keys, cell phone or even my mind I would be in the best shape of my life.

In my mind, I am still 18 or 20 years old.  Deep down, I am having a real problem believing that my body does not work the same way that it used too.  I want it too, but the cold hard reality is that it does not.  I hurt after I work out… when I do workout that is.  I mean a lot too.  I am genuinely afraid of sneezing the day after I workout, because I will hurt all over.  After a good workout with my arms (raise arms slightly) this is as high as I can lift them.  All of this is new to me.

When I was younger I could take the pain better.  But now with kids, and being older I have a hard time with this.  I feel shame, sad and disappointed in myself for not achieving what is wanted.  What is worse is my wife is a great encourager for me on this in keeping me accountable, am I consistently let her down.  If it was just me, I would not care so much.  My wife and kids are rooting for me, and I keep failing.  It feels like no matter how hard or long I work, I will never get to the end goal … whatever that is or looks like.  In the end I often feel like giving up, and giving in.  I am frustrated.  In my head, I don’t want to but my heart is aching with pain.

When it comes to our individual relationships with God and Jesus, I suspect that this pattern of trying, not measuring up and then feeling down is more common than we think.

Work and our relationship with God

For some people doing good things means that they are good Christians.  It seems like a logical thing.  If I help a young kid who is down and out, I am a good person.  I did what God wants me to do.  The kid is in a better spot and I was the one who helped.  I did what I was called to do.  This is the gold standard in trying to work into God’s favour.  Helping the little guy.  Even the Bible writes about that. For others, it can be different

The more common way that we can think of working our way into God’s good graces is by living a good, noble life overall.  Sure, I may not be perfect but I help where I can.  I do not ask for praise or even acknowledgement of my work.  When I help in the little ways I am still working to ensure that God is happy with me.

Lastly, we may even try reading all the right books and praying all the right prayers to please God.  We may come to church every Sunday, actively work or lead a ministry.  Through our activity, we show our faith because words fail us, and that is just not us.  Instead I will do something to help.

In each of these instances our work is what is at the forefront.  We are working to please God, show Gods’ love, or maybe even to try and make God like me a little more.  If I do all the right things, then I must be a good person and a good Christian.

If any of this was completely true, then why did Jesus die on the cross for you or for anybody else?  Why did he suffer being abandoned by his close friends on the eve of his trial?  Why bother getting out of the tomb on Easter morning?  If our works and deeds could get us into God’s good graces, then Jesus would have died for nothing.  Of course, doing good things has their place in the Christian life.  Service is a hallmark of it, but ensuring salvation and a close relationship with God is not one of them.  We are saved by faith and not works, and a faith that does no work, is no faith at all.

Prayer and Contemplation and our relationship with God
            Great.  I guess what really matters is believing.  If I accept all the right things, and believe all the right things then I am good with God … right?  I guess I really do have to believe Easter and the Virgin Mary, and the Jesus was all God and all a person at the same time, … even though it makes no sense to me.   This must be the reason I ask people to read the Bible.  This must be the reason we need to share our prayer lives with each other.  Well not exactly.

There are some who are more academically and theologically inclined and prefer a good, hard Bible study for their mind to chew on.  There are people who can eloquently speak a great fruitful Christian language and appear to know it all.  Perhaps you see me this way?

Then you would be wrong.  If all you did was study and pray, and did nothing with what you believe, then you have missed the point of what you had been reading.  We pray to know more about God and how God works.  We read to learn more and grow deeper in our faith so we can have more confidence in what we believe.  These things are indeed work, and it is not the only work.  If you prayed everyday of your life, and did not notice the poor hungry person across the table then you have not really prayed at all.

Prayer and personal reflection should move us to act.  Our actions should move us to pray.  When we find ourselves doing this, then we have an engaged, active life of faith that God is really working in and out of.  Therefore, works and faith must go together.  If you only focus on one, you will feel like a baby trying to lift a barbell.  No matter how hard you try that barbell will never be lifted.

How do we do this

Working in harmony with God takes a lot of practice.  I am sorry, but it is the truth.  As Christians, we are called to be go-getters and followers.  It is easy to get ahead of God working in your life.  After all, God is always calling us to do something.  The trouble is some of us need to learn to not get ahead of God, because when you do, confusion, disorganization and disharmony will result.  Then the ministry and life in Christ that we are so excited about will need to be started all over again.  We may feel we have wasted valuable time, – God’s time –  simply because we are to proud and ambitious to wait for God to lay out the path before us.  This is what happens when you workout too hard when you first start.  You over work your muscles and end up hurting yourself and then need to start over.  This is same thing that happens when we expect our work to be good enough for God, instead of waiting on God to point us in the right direction, for where the work needs to be done.

One of the things that I have had the learn to do is slow down.  (Don’t laugh … Just because my slow is your fast, does not mean it is not slow for  me …)  Instead of going full on and getting right to work, take time to pray.  Intentionally and deeply pray before you act.  Wait and expect the Holy Spirit to fill your head and heart with fresh new ideas.  Wait and expect the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with more than enough energy to take on the task in its fullest.  We may need to slow down long enough for God to get ahead of us, and place the right people around us to keep Gods mission moving.

If you feel God’s call for you to do something, slow down for a while.  Really get in tune with what is going on inside you and around you and then act passionately.  Then your faith will be in action.

The reading in both Corinthians and Matthew encourage us to remember how God comes to us, and spurs us on to grow in Him.  In Paul’s letter, he is reminding us that ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”  Through Christ Jesus, God comes to us as the source of all life and goodness.  Through faith we can take comfort in our blessings.

In the gospel, there are two words that are repeated and these two words are incredibly important.  Matthew repeatedly writes, “Blessed are ….”  Not bless if, or bless when.  Blessed are those who do these things.  This means that if you are doing one or some of these things, God is already with you and is actively working in you too! God has already forgiven you for the things that you can’t forgive yourself for.  This means that you do not need to slave away trying to work your way into God’s good books, … you are already in them.  God is with you, … are you with God?  Can you accept that Jesus loves the real you, despite all the stuff that you have done … or failed to have done?  Jesus wants to take good enough that you already are and transform it into something even better.  This is all given to you through your active faith.

I began this homily with a confession of my failure to lose weight and keep it off.  I shared how I continually let myself and my family down, and that I feel sad, disappointed and ashamed.   These things are not going to keep me from trying though.  These things will not define who I am, and I will not let them seep into my heart.  If God can suffer on the cross to show me he loves me, then I can suffer through some sore muscles and some hunger pangs to be more of the person I can be.  I am doing this for myself and my family.  What are you going to do for yourself and your faith in God?  Amen.

Epiphany – Gideon’s Light

Where did I put ..

Have you ever had a moment where you were trying to find something really important, but just could not find it?  As you search your memory, it can feel like you are trying to hold onto fog.  You try to grasp it but it falls away.  You work hard to trigger your memory retracing steps, flipping the couch cushions, checking your pockets.  You tidy the house up as you search for this really important thing.  After awhile, you just give up, sit yourself down and try to let it go.  But you can’t!  As you sit there your brain keeps running, you start to hope that something will magically appear in your mind and you will suddenly find clarity.  The minutes begin to feel like hours that drag on.  You pull a friend or loved one into your darkening abyss as you try and sort out what happened, and where it has gone.  Then, in the middle of the dark of night, after you have finally let go and resigned yourself to embracing futility, failure and disappointment, you spring out of bed, go to your coat pocket, and there under who knows what, you finally feel them in your hands.  Your keys!  Your beautiful wonderful keys.  You have them and used them all the time, but somehow these valuable things are lost, forgotten and miss placed in the course of everyday life.  They are always in the last place you look.

The reading from Isaiah says , “For the yoke of their burden, and bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressors, you have broken as on the day of Midian.”  This last sentence from Isaiah are the lost keys to understanding what is going on from our passages this morning.

Day of Midian

This cryptic reference in the last line of Isaiah gives us a clue to understanding what all three readings use in their reference point of ‘the day of Midian’.  If you were a first century Jew, you would immediately understand the reference.  It would be like someone saying, ‘we were shocked like on 9/11’.  The emotions, circumstances and turmoil comes to the forefront of our minds and we immediately understand what is being shared.  This is what is going on with ‘the day of Midian.’

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Advent 3 – “It is what it is….”

“It is what it is” – this is the favourite saying of my regular golfing partner whenever we walk down the fairway after a good long drive each and then, to our dismay and frustration, we discover our balls have bounced off into the rough or into the bunker (I know you Canadians say “trap”). Before any expletives can come out or any words you would not expect a priest to utter, Rheal booms out the famous words “It is what it is”!

And in his own way this is what Jesus is telling the disciples of John the Baptist in our gospel reading this morning. They had been sent by John from his prison cell where, I am sure, he was mystified. He had been so certain Jesus was God’s chosen one; yet surely The Messiah, coming to bring God’s judgment, would by now have taken control and vanquished the opposition? John has heard of miracles of healing and teaching about loving your enemies, tales of a man who does not fast as a pious Jew should and who consorts with Gentile sinners as a pious Jew should not. Doubts have crept in; can this really be The Messiah?

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Why bother coming to Church? – Reign of Christ

What are we doing?  Why are we gathered here?  Is there not a better use of our time like… sleeping in, or making breakfast for a loved one, or getting caught up on the project that never seems to be done?  Would cleaning the house be a better use of your time than coming here … to church … most Sundays?

There are times that I think all of this.  It seems like a strange thing to do, to come to church doesn’t it.  And this is coming from a person trying to make a career out of it!  Perhaps a better question is this:  Why do you come to church?

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Remember Dacau – Remembrance Sunday

Sermon 13.11.16 Remembrance Sunday

Some of you may not know that before I entered the priesthood I was a police officer at New Scotland Yard in London. For many years I worked in the European Liaison Section in Special Branch, liaising with other European Police Forces on anti-terrorism and security matters. Because of my degree in German I was sent to do a six week attachment in Germany with the Federal Police (in German Das Bundeskriminalamt) in their headquarters in Wiesbaden in 1982.

I had been working on an assignment with a German police colleague in the Munich area and before we headed back to Wiesbaden we decided to visit some tourist spots. At one of these we got out of the car in the car park, turned right and there facing us were the dreaded words over the gate “Arbeit macht frei” – work makes you free. It was Dachau Concentration Camp. The next couple of hours were some of the most moving in my life and have left an enduring impression in my memory. When we entered the camp we first of all went into the administration block where they had all the displays, videos and grim statistics and photographs of what had gone on there. The first camp to be built by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933, Dachau was constructed to house 5,000 prisoners. By 1945 when it was liberated by The Allies there were over 206,000 in the camp. Over 41,500 prisoners were murdered between 1933 and 1945, including over 2,000 priests and thousands of Nazi political opponents, notwithstanding the Jews, Jewish sympathisers and Romany gypsies and homosexuals. There were descriptions of the horrendous lives and deaths of the prisoners and all sorts of other horrors including the living conditions of the prisoners in the bunkhouses.

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The Resurrection Matters

Out of all my body parts I feel like my eyes are in the best shape.  I do at least a thousand eye rolls a day.  This is how I imagine Jesus dealing with the Sadducee’s from today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke.  Oh look, the temple leadership is here trying to trap me again.  Oh boy, I will out with them one more time.  Part of the reason I imagine being a bit exacerbated is because of what lies behind the exchange and is at the heart of our God.  Jesus came to usher in a new way of life and to usher in the Kingdom of God in the here and now.  Both of these things require that we pay attention to the way we see the world we live in.

The Sadducee’s were the people who ran the Temple in Jerusalem.  They are the official community leaders in politics and faith.  They are the priests.  They are the governors.  They are expected to administer the rites and rituals of the temple, talk with the ruling Roman government and help them rule.  It is expected and assumed that they understand and correctly interpret the Torah, their Bible.  In short the Sadducee’s are the Authorities for the Jewish people. So why does this group of people constantly trying to trap Jesus in saying or doing something he shouldn’t?

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Practical Compassion – Way of Life

Based on Colossians 3:12-17, Psalm 145:1-10 and Matthew 14:13-21

Practical Compassion – Way of Life

Have you ever had a really bad day?  Not just another run of the mill bad day, but one where someone really close to you was rushed to the hospital and had suddenly died.  I have in the last week and so did Jesus.  This kind of thing sits in the background of the Gospel reading here today.

Jesus was having a ‘bad day’.  He had just received news that the person who most understood him, his prophet and cousin John the Baptist, had been hideously murdered in order for a lustful king to keep a shallow promise.  Jesus was floored with this news.  The emotions that flooded him would have been overwhelming.  Like many of us would, Jesus just wanted to get away.  This is why he was getting on a boat.  He wanted to be in a secluded place all by himself to grieve the loss of his cousin.  For him this is alone, on a boat, in the middle of the lake.  We have experienced a time where the world feels like it is heavy and washes over us like a tidal wave.  In these moments all we want to do is to get away and perhaps be alone with God.

The trouble is people kept following Jesus and made this impossible for him to have his alone time.

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Practical Compassion – Empathy

Readings: Samuel 2 12:1 – 15 and John 7:53 – 8.11

This morning we resume our 4 week course on Practical Compassion after a break for Thanksgiving last week. You will remember that Ian preached on the various different aspects of the subject in the first week and that 2 weeks ago Margaret taught us all about how to develop our listening powers when counselling others. I’m now going to talk about how we use “empathy” and how to advance it as a skill in our practical compassion armoury.

So, what is empathy? Some people think it is the same as sympathy and, while they are very close, they are definitely not the same. As we shall see in our session afterwards the dictionary definitions are as follows:

Empathy – the power to enter the feeling or spirit of others

Sympathy – a sharing in the emotion of others or a feeling for the difficulties or ills of others.

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Thanksgiving 2016

Based on John 6:25-36

There are times where I really like the first disciples of Jesus Christ.  Not because they are the most faithful, educated or heroic, and not because they had the benefit of literally walking beside God’s son, Jesus Christ for years.  I really like how much I can relate to them as good natured people who just missed the point so often.

In today’s gospel reading from John we get a glimpse of the kind of people these first disciples are, and how much they had to learn as they grew into their calling to proclaim the good news

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Practical Compassion – Active Listening

Active Listening         Are you hearing or listening?

Practical Compassion Sermon Series                  Homily 2

 

Scripture:

Isaiah 6:1-11              Psalm 29                    James 1:19-25                      John 4:7-15

 

Listening/hearing – they are interchangeable terms aren’t they. We do it everyday, all day. Or do we?

 

Listening – the thesaurus provided interesting words – attending, heeding, eavesdropping, snooping, pay attention, take note, hang on, pin your ears back, listen in. It then suggested the opposite was ignoring.

 

Hearing – now here the thesaurus got very interesting – earshot, range, reach, trial, enquiry, inquiry, investigation, examination, consideration, catching, getting, overhearing, perceiving, receiving, understanding, heeding, hearkening, getting, listen to, pay attention to, trying, judging, gathering, learning, understanding. With missing and ignoring as its opposite.

Well, those are quite the word lists aren’t they? And what do they mean to us today? And in light of these scripture passages we have just heard read? Ah now did we hear the word of God? Or did we listen to the word of God?

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