We do not like living by faith

GOSPEL: John 1:43-51
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

One of the images of modern life that I often come back to is one that I heard during a radio interview with an Old Testament professor. He was describing his cancer diagnosis and how that impacted his self-perception. He said that before his meeting with his doctor that this life – the plans and dreams that he had – was loud and filled the sky. The things, ideas, and feelings going on around him  filled the airspace and the sound space of his conciousness. 

But when he left his doctor’s office after receiving his diagnosis, it was like the soundtrack to his life had been turned off. There was deafening silence. He felt small and alone. 

I can’t help but think we are all going through something similar. The soundtracks to our lives have been turned down or off. The plans and dreams that we had have been made small or erased completely. Before March of last year, our worlds were full of long term plans. From school years and retirement dates, to vacation plans and economic forecasts, to hockey season predictions and election cycle prognostications. We had plans big and small, and we were in the habit of making long-term projections and casting forward visions. 

Now, it is hard think more than public health order restriction cycle ahead. Our plans are for a few days or weeks at a time, and always with the caveat that things may change.

And nearly a year into living a life of small short terms plans, I have been reminding myself that for most of human history, people have lived this way. Living in crisis or under oppression has a way cutting plans short, of making the future hazy and uncertain. 

Last Sunday, we transitioned out of the Christmas season into the season after Epiphany. We began with the Baptism of Jesus and we will continue for next few weeks having pieces of Jesus’ ministry revealed to us, preparing us for Lent, Good Friday and Easter. 

Today, as we hear the story of Philip and Nathanael’s call to follow Jesus there is a familiar open endedness to it all. *We* might know how the story of Jesus and his disciples goes from here, but we also know that Philip and Nathanael don’t have a clue of what they are getting into. 

Philip and Nathanael’s call story is different than that of the others. Those fisherman: Peter, James and John who will leave their boats next week; they are jumping at the opportunity of a lifetime. The are leaving a life of hard labour for the opportunity of being the student of a Rabbi. 

But Nathanael and Philip, this is what they are hoping for. Philip reveals to us that he is a student searching for a teacher when he quotes the prophecy of scripture, something only a student of religion would know. Then Jesus identifies Nathanael as one too when says, “I saw you under the fig tree.” A colloquialism indicating a place of learning, as Rabbis often taught their students under the shade of a fig trees. 

Being the follower of a Rabbi in first century Israel wasn’t an invitation to a life of vagrancy that we might imagine. Rabbis were well respected members of the social structure, and learning the scriptures from a well respected teacher was a gateway into the religious system of the day, the group in power and control over Hebrew society. And being chosen by a Rabbi to follow was like winning the lottery, only the best and brightest were invited to follow. Maybe Philip and Nathanael imagined becoming Scribes or Pharisees, positions of power and privilege in the world. 

And yet, Jesus is also somewhat unknown and unconventional. He is identifiable as a Rabbi, a teacher of the faith, but he is also new to town, he just shows up and call followers. And as Jesus finds Philip and Nathanael, they find themselves following a Rabbi as they dreamed, but maybe not as certain about how this would turn out.

In fact, as the three talk it becomes clear that these two followers in search of a teacher haven’t a clue of what they are getting into. 

Likewise, we find ourselves in a similar moment. After 10 months of living small lives, we too are at a moment where we might not be too sure of what we are getting into. Our futures are uncertain, vague and hazy. 

It is a feeling we don’t like. In fact, if this year has revealed something about us, it is that we DO NOT like living by faith. 

We have been asked to trust our leaders, trust politicians, public health officials, scientists and business leaders. We have been asked or forced to cancel our plans, pull our life plans and habits back, and trust that everything will be okay. 

And it is clear that many of us do not like this at all. People have complained, protested and resisted. But even those of us who have kept the rules are probably growing quite weary of it all. 

And then you would think that as people of faith, as church folk, we would be used to the idea of trusting and living by faith that God will see us through, even when we don’t know where we are going, whether it is safe and how we are going to get there. You would think that as all of society is asked to live by faith, that people of faith could show a good example… but many of our siblings in faith have been quite the opposite. 

We too simply do not like having to trust. We want to know where we are going, we want to protect ourselves, we want to hold the map. We want to be in control of the process, to be the ones making the decisions. 

And so in 2021, and maybe more than ever before, this story of Jesus calling disciples, asking them to trust without knowing where they are going and where this is all headed… this story is uncomfortable for us. Uncomfortable for us a a society, for us a individuals and especially uncomfortable for as faith communities… especially as faith communities living with loads of uncertainty long before the words pandemic, Coronavirus, PPE and social distancing were ever introduced into our daily vocabulary.

But Jesus knows that the solution to Philip’s and Nathanael’s desire to control their future isn’t more control, more knowledge or more power. 

Jesus cuts through their anxiety and uncertainty to provide the thing that they truly need. 

The moments go by so quickly the are easy to miss. 

Jesus finds Philip. 

Jesus sees Nathanael. 

Before Philip could figure out his own way. Before Nathanael could ask his questions. Before they wonder and worry about what is coming next and where following this unconventional Rabbi would lead them.

Jesus does the knowing and the finding. 

Jesus figures out God’s way to these two disciples. Jesus makes the journey to them, knowing who they are and knowing where they need to go. 

And for all Philip and Nathanael’s desire to know their future, to know their path, to control how they will get where they are going… it is being found and being known that breaks through their hesitancy. 

When Jesus finds Philips and invites him to follow, Philip cannot help but excitedly go and tell Nathanael. 

When Jesus reveals that he has known Nathanael, who he is, his hopes and dreams, his fears and wonderings, all by simply seeing him under the fig tree…. Nathanael confesses that Jesus is God’s son. 

Because the solution to their anxiety and fear about the future… the solution to our anxiety and fear about our future is not control or knowledge. 

The solution is being found by the one who holds the future in their hands. 

The solution is being known by the one who will walk with us wherever we end up, wherever we go. 

For you see, being found and being known is exactly what God has been doing with us since the beginning. Just as God declared Jesus a beloved child last week, God declares the same with us. 

Our fears for the future are met by the God who finds us and knows us. The God who brings us into community, into God’s very body, into the community of the faithful.

As we sit in this post-Christmas New Years 2021 moment, with so many of the promises of something better in 2021 being dashed already, with fear for what comes next, with a weariness of living by faith…

God continues to do what has always done. 

Jesus finds us in the waters of baptism.

Jesus finds us in the word and prayers and hymns that proclaim God’s love for us. 

Jesus finds us no matter where we are, no matter where we worship, no matter how alone we feel. 

Jesus knows us in our siblings in faith. 

Jesus knows us intimately and fully, and declares that we are God’s children, we are God’s beloved.

Jesus knows us our story and brings us into God’s story. 

Jesus shows us that God knows our way even when it is unclear to us.

Jesus reminds us of the God who knows our past, our present and our future. 

And Jesus join us in the uncertainty that we are living through, and declares that no matter what comes that God’s plan for us is new life. 

On this second Sunday after Epiphany, when it is clear that all of our hopes, dreams and plans for the future will not come to pass as we imagined. 

Jesus finds us and Jesus knows us. 

And Jesus invites us again into God’s future. A future that might be hazy and uncertain and unclear to us, but a future that belongs to God. And even when we tired of living by faith, Jesus reminds that God continues to have faith in us. 

Amen

Ep.8 Ministry in 2021 – Ughhh

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-hybwa-f75b64

Er… Happy New year?

So, 2021 hasn’t started out exactly as we all dreamed it would heading into Christmas. The pandemic is still raging, churches are still mostly virtual and democracy is only in a free falling crisis.

What does that mean for people of faith in 2021? What will ministry look like for the next 3 months, 6 months or 12 months?

Join Pastor Courtenay and Pastor Erik for a conversation about ministry in 2021 and what this new year might bring.  

Check out The Millennial Pastor blog.

This podcast is sponsored by the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

Music by Audionautix.com

Theme Song – “Jesus Loves Me” by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Alberta and the North (LOMAN)

A Voice Like Thunder and the Trouble with Crowds

GOSPEL: Mark 1:4-11
9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In the familiar rhythm and pattern of the liturgical calendar, as we conclude the 12 days of the seasons of Christmas, observe the day of Epiphany by telling the story of magi coming to visit the Christ child, while chalking and blessing our homes for the new year, we come to the Baptism of Our Lord. While it moves us from hearing about the stories about Mary and Joseph, mangers and magi, it does bring us back to where we began in Advent – with John the Baptist. And the baptism is a story that begins the story of Jesus as much as any Christmas narrative.

This story stands out for many reasons: the wild hermit preacher John wearing his camel hair clothes, the voice from heaven that speaks like thunder, and a vision of the spirit descending from above. 

But of all the elements of the story that might be hard to imagine in this re-telling of the story, it might be the crowds. 

It is especially hard to imagine standing in a crowd, packed shoulder to shoulder, gathered to share in an experience together. 

We have had an especially complicated relationship with crowds in the past 10 or so months. From their near absence in our lives, to their new existence in the form of the crowded “Brady Bunch” view on our zoom calls, to the crowds we watched on TV gathering at the political rallies of a certain politician, to the masked crowds that couldn’t help but gather in cities around the globe in response to the murder of George Floyd, to the crowds of that other kind protesting pandemic restrictions whether at legislatures or too often churches (even in our own neighbourhood), to the crowds and gatherings of the rich and powerful as the flout public health orders. 

And of course, there was the crowd that we all witnessed on TV this week, the one that stormed the US capitol building, the violent group of MAGA hatted, QAnon believing, white supremacy espousing insurrectionists who were trying to overturn the results of a fair and legal election. As the overmatched police essentially let the crowd in, the violence resulted the death of 5 people, yet still showed the overwhelming restraint that authorities displayed towards a crowd of white folks compared the overwhelmingly violent response shown to crowds of people of colour. 

So yeah, after 2020 and now the first 10 days of 2021, imagining a crowd standing on the banks of river Jordan brings up mixed and complicated feelings. 

So why are these crowds there? What have they gone out to hear from John the Baptist?

In some many ways they are not much different than the crowds we have been seeing on our device screens lately. They aren’t violent insurrectionists or peaceful protesters, but they are people looking for something more in their lives. 

They are people looking for connection. 

Connection to something bigger than they are. Something to give them hope, something that will address injustice, something of the divine that will meet their mundane struggles, something that will relieve their disconnection of their everyday, very human lives.

The crowds on banks of the river were mostly made of folks living under oppression. Oppression from Roman occupation and from their own religious authorities who sought to maintain the power imbalance of the status quo. People whose lived experience probably felt disconnected from the stories that they knew by heart. People who knew the promises of God, the promise of Messiah found in the prophets, the covenant promise found in the stories of their ancestors. 

People who knew God’s promise, yet longed to know God’s presence. And so they went to hear John, to hear the voice of one speaking on God’s behalf, one who might connect those promises they knew by heart to the world they lived in. The hoped that this wilderness preacher, John, would be able to show them how the story of the divine, how God’s promises fit into their lives, into their suffering and oppression, into their longing for something different, into their longing for salvation. 

It is a feeling we get these days. We look at the crowds we see on TV that show us our suffering world. We look around at the homes we are stuck in and that feel like prisons. We look at the phones and computers, the social media accounts that are now our only connection to so many of the people that we care about, but remind us constantly of our separation from those same people….

And we long for connection. For our lives-made-small to feel connected once again to something bigger and larger than we are. Connected to the divine story, connected to the promised Messiah. Connected to the God made flesh. 

And then Jesus just walks into the water with John and gets baptized. 

He just shows up. 

Right in front of the crowds longing for the Messiah, longing for connection to the divine. Jesus, the Christ come in flesh that the Angels sang about, the one whom the Magi came to visit. 

Then once he comes up and out of the water, the heavens open up to the spirit of God. And the the voice of God rings out and in their ears. 

“You are my son, my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”

God in flesh, God in sight, God’s voice ringing through creation. 

And if the crowds and if we didn’t make the connection to the sound of God’s voice thundering over creation, we heard from Genesis 1 when God spoke light into darkness to remind us.

And God speaks lights into darkness once again. 

The connection that the crowds so desperately sought is revealed in the promised Messiah, the Christ in flesh, the spirit of God come near. 

God re-connects God’s people to God’s story. God brings the lives of everyday, average people, people living under oppression, suffering under the powerful… God brings their living into the life and story of God. And God’s story in the waters becomes the story of all creation. 

Because God and creation are now one in the flesh of the Christ. The declaration of belovedness doesn’t belong just to Jesus, but to all who bear the flesh of creation. As Jesus comes up and out of the water, up and out the same water that sustains us, that washes and nourishes us, that grows our food and rains our land… the meeting of water and flesh and the Word of God spoken from heaven becomes the intersection and connection of creation’s story and God’s story. 

And so, as we too, with the all the crowds of this year, the crowds who bring their stories and lives and suffering and oppression seeking connection and reconciliation to the divine…

As we too come to this day of the Baptism of our Lord… 

We are reminded that as the water washes and nourishes our bodies, as the waters meets our flesh and the Word of God is spoken and heard in our midst… that even apart, that even crowd -less…. God declares to us too what the voice said to Jesus. 

You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased. 

You are who are longing for connection. 

You who feel trapped in your homes

You who are disconnected from family and friend and loves ones

You who are grieved by the violence and division that overwhelms us. 

You who cannot bear another zoom visit with family, rather than hugging a loved one. 

You who are alone fearful of the other and risk that gathering brings. 

You who care for the sick, teach the young, provide for the masses.

You who work and parent and recreate but rarely rest all at home.

You who are caught in deep darkness with seemingly so little light. 

You are God’s beloved. 

You are what pleases God. 

You are God’s child. 

And you and your mundane, earthy, messy life… are connected in the water, and in the flesh and in the word… to the life and story of God. 

Connected to spirit of God that descended from the heavens. 

Connected to the flesh that was reborn in the waters.

Connected to the voice that spoke light and life into being…

 God has made that moment our story… first on the banks of the river Jordan and again today. 

Amen.

The Long Awaited 10th Day of Christmas

John 1:[1-9] 10-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

The long awaited day is finally here. 

The 10th day of Christmas. 

Now of course, most of the fuss has been made in past weeks, months even, leading up Christmas Eve, already 10 days ago. And probably for many, today is a moment to relax… maybe you still even have some that turkey left over to make some sandwiches for lunch. 

But for most that gather to worship this morning, the reason that you are here are likely quite different than all the folks who tuned in for Christmas Eve. Today, you might be here because this is an escape from endless family zooms, or yet another Christmas break walk with household. Or maybe even as the world has moved on from Christmas, you are still looking to hear some Christmas music.  Or perhaps the opportunity to hear again the story of Christ’s coming into the world matters to you, that it matters to your faith… or maybe it is all of those things and more. 

Still, there is something unique about these Sundays after Christmas… and I think it has to do with the fact that these days after Christmas each year are when we release ourselves from the burden of creating the perfect memories with the magic of the season. This morning the carols can be sung, the readings read and prayers prayed without need to fill relive all the memories and magic of Christmases past and Christmases imagined. 

In fact, the season of Christmas in most churches stands in stark contrast to the experience of Christmas that most of the world has been observing for a couple of months now. If we are to believe the Christmas commercials and flyers, the perfect Christmas can be achieved with a combination of spending, baking, decorating, zoom party planning, YouTube concerts and amazon prime deliveries. Which is odd because Christmas is supposed to be a season of celebration, isn’t it? The season where we prepare and watch and wait is Advent. Yet, the preparing that so often goes on in these months before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is an unconscious or unaware preparation. There might be tallies and lists of the number of gifts to buy, wrap and ship, FaceTime calls to make, Christmas cards to mail … but the deeper attention to what the preparations are truly for and why they are important is mostly absent.

And then the big day arrives and Christmas Eve is full of expectation. And instead of the wonder of the Angels announcing good news, we experience a frantic desire to recreate and relive memories and traditions of old. And we put on Christmas Eve impossible expectations that no number of traditions can truly ever meet. 

So often we arrive at Christmas Eve desperately seeking something which we cannot define, a fleeting feeling only experienced in memory, but rarely in reality. 

And in 2020, Christmas Eve didn’t have a hope to live up to our memories, long before we ever flipped the calendar to December 24th, Christmas Eve was going to fail. 

But then we come to the 10th day of Christmas… with Christmas as we usually imagine it probably failing to meet our dreams and expectations… and today gives us something different. 

We get the Word in the beginning, light in the darkness, word made flesh. 

John’s familiar words in the Christmas gospel stand in stark contrast to the way Christmas tends to go in our world. 

John speaks poetic words about the Word bringing life into being, about light shining in the darkness and the darkness unable to overcome it, about a world which does not know this word and this light. 

And finally John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Then that familiar story of Mary and Joseph in the stable, the shepherds and angels coming to worship, the Christ child in the manger… that story takes on a different meaning. 

It is a story not found in store window fronts and crowded malls, nor in no-contact deliveries and Facebook Live Christmas events, not found in Christmas movies which we watched so many of this year, not told by the targets adds and buy local campaigns in our news feeds.  

It is a story that isn’t one of a busy and frantic world searching for fulfillment in all the wrong places. It is a story that comes in the quiet and dark places, in the forgotten and sombre places. Maybe it is a 2020 or 2021 story more than we know. 

The Christ comes into the world revealing God to only one household, two people to begin with. Angels from heaven announcing the greatest news in all space and time, to only a handful of shepherds, people who weren’t expecting or searching for anything. 

Despite our best intentions, Christmas as our world often observes it misses the point. 

But Christmas according to John makes the point. 

The word and the light, the Messiah, the Christ, is born into our world this day, this Christmas Day… and the Christ does not come because of our frantic preparations and searching. 

The word and the light comes into our darkness, into our lost and forgotten places, into the moments when we can finally breathe, when our search for something to fill our nostalgic memories results in emptiness and nothing. It comes despite our best efforts because we still need saving. 

The Word becomes flesh…  

the Christ takes on our bodies and our hearts,

our misplaced desires and lonely longings, 

and Jesus joins our world, a world that does not know him, 

and Jesus becomes the only one who can truly fill that emptiness, 

that seeking desire within . 

And so here we are on 10 the day of Christmas, in the moments after the chaos of the past few months has ended… and today is the moment that the Christ comes in flesh to us. 

Comes in flesh to bring light and life. 

Comes in flesh so that God can be known in your flesh and my flesh and in all human hearts. 

Comes in flesh so that we may no longer live in darkness but in light

And on this 2nd Sunday of Christmas, when most all the world is busy with other things, yeah the new year, with vaccinations, with starting 2021 anew, and maybe doesn’t even know that today is still a day to celebrate, 

The Christ, the Word comes, and dwells in flesh among us.