Essential Workers, Freedom Convoys and Living on the Edge – Pastor Thoughts

As I write to you this week, I am sitting listening to CBC Radio’s The Current and their discussion on essential workers in Canada. Guests from a variety of sectors are sharing their stories of working during the pandemic: health-care workers, long-term care, grocery stores, food delivery, education and so on. Many are talking about the appreciation and pay increases they received during the early months of the pandemic, and how those had mostly disappeared by the summer of 2020. At the same time, many employers took the opportunity to increase responsibilities and duties, to work in unsafe circumstances, to continue to work while sick, to suffer through threats of job loss and so on. 

At the same time, it has been hard this week to ignore all the news reports about the “Freedom Convoy” that is rolling across the nation in protest of vaccination mandates for cross-boarder truckers. 

Add explosive numbers of Omicron cases that may or may not be flatlining (we just cannot keep track) and inflation not seen in decades, and we can see that we are being squeezed as a society. 

This week in my sermon, I talk about how edgy we are these days. Quick to become frustrated and angry with those around us. 

The lofty visions of getting through this pandemic together that we held onto back at the beginning, are giving way to pulling back, looking out for number one and venting our frustrations with our neighbours. 

All these things, all these parts of life that show us just how little control we have over world are hard to take day-in day-out. Of course that is certain point of privilege, as the vast majority of human beings in history have lived under oppression, during wars and famines, pandemics and conflicts. 

But we are not used to this life. We have become accustomed to lives that are our mostly our own, and that we only share with our neighbour when it suits us. We have not known what it means to be beholden to our neighbour and vulnerable to the world every time we step outside our homes.

You can probably guess that I would support things like Universal Basic Income and a higher minimum wage, especially for essential worker who have endured so much. 

You can probably also guess my feelings about the Freedom Convoy (it is a waste of time and money, and only serves as a populist front for a White Nationalist agenda). 

Regardless, I think there is connection between what our essential workers are feeling and what those who support the Freedom convoy are feeling. What we are all feeling these days. 

The squeeze is on and it is revealing something broken in the world. The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer and we are all becoming more vulnerable. Life doesn’t need to be so hard, so many don’t need to struggle to make ends meet. 

When people are squeezed enough, things tend to go sideways in societies. Protests (we are seeing those), violent protests (we can imagine those soon), revolts (January 6th, 2021 Capitol Hill attack) and revolutions. I wish I could say we will turn it around before it gets too bad, but the cycle of history suggests we won’t. 

So what does this depressing situation mean for us, for people of faith?

The Church has born witness to the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms. The Church has walked beside the poor and oppressed in times of struggle, and called powerful to account. 

But most importantly, the church has done what is has always done. We have continued to tell the story of Jesus, we have continued to preach the alternate vision of creation rooted in the Kingdom of God. 

We know that what is going on around isn’t the way things are supposed to be. We have a name for all the troubles – original sin. The reality that human beings have never and will never bring about paradise… we are only good are ruining it. 

But thankfully we also have this promise from God, that our version of the world is not the final one. Instead, God promises a new creation. A world where all belong, where all have enough, where all are welcome. 

That promise, that vision is what we need these days, it is what the world needs. So we will continue to do what we have always done. We will keep telling the story of God, keep proclaiming the coming of Messiah, keep sharing God’s promises and visions for the world. 

Slowing Down for the Spirit

Luke 4:14-21
Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

A star that guides the Magi from the East to the Christ child. 

A voice like Thunder that declares “You are my beloved Son”

Water turned into abundant flowing wine to gladden a wedding celebration. 

We have been witnesses to big, bold and exciting events the past few weeks. We have seen God pulling back the veil between heaven and earth to show us that Jesus, that God is flesh, is near. The grandness of these stories makes us certain of God’s presence in the world. 

And as we have witnessed the divine spectacle this season after Epiphany, we have become accustomed to these kinds of signs. We see God interjecting the divine into the lives of everyday people, and we anticipate that God will do the same with us. 

But today, there doesn’t seem to be any flashy sign or action to accompany Jesus. Today is different. Luke tells us a story in a more pedestrian style, a seemingly casual and low-key vignette of Jesus’ ministry. 

Today, Jesus does only what is expected of any Jewish man in the synagogue. No miracles or signs of power. Jesus simply reads from the scroll of the prophets and then provides explanation. It should feel almost normal, it should remind us of the same worship that is our custom as well.  

We return to Luke’s Gospel, after a detour in John’s Gospel last week for the wedding at Cana and the pace of the action slows. The story is one of subtle details. 

Jesus has been preaching and teaching in Galilee. Reports of him have spreading, he is coming to be regarded as a well known teacher, a traveling Rabbi. And with news spreading, Jesus arrives in his hometown of Nazareth. 

Jesus goes to the synagogue on the sabbath, as was his custom. Jesus is not only a regular worship attender, it is clear that in the synagogues is where he is getting his message out, where he is making his ministry known.

Yet still, it was possible for any Jewish man to be asked to read from the Tanahk, the Hebrew Bible. However, as a wondering preacher, the people likely expected this hometown son to now preach for the folks who knew him as a kid. Jesus stands to read and is given the scroll of the prophets. Jesus makes is way through the scroll and chooses a familiar passage, from what we now call Isaiah 61. 

Luke brings us right down to the moment by moment details. Compared to the drama of voices from heaven and surprising good tasting abundant wine, Luke adds tension in the slowness of motion. Once Jesus has concluded the reading, he rolls up the scroll… He hands the scroll to the attendant… Jesus sits down and prepares himself to teach… The whole synagogue is waiting for what Jesus is going to say… All eyes are trained on Jesus…. 


In these past weeks, our story has slowed down as well to moment by moment details. Our world had finally begun to expand from summer on last year, we began to imagine a bigger and brighter future. But then the pandemic found a way to squeeze us again. We have been scaled back and pared down, and yet we wait with bated breath for when this latest wave may end and there will be signs of life renewed. 

It is hard for even one day to go by and for us not to see how our world needs signs of hope. The poor need good news, the captives need releasing, the blind need sight, the oppressed need freedom. We cannot help but be bombarded by a world in desperate need wherever we look, whether it is here in Winnipeg or far away on the other side of the planet. 

As Jesus reads from Isaiah, the people that he was reading to longed for good news, for release, for healing and freedom. It is a longing that has lasted throughout all of human history. 

And as we long for change, we begin to load God with expectations. We hear Jesus speak of good news for the poor but we long for riches. We see the captives that need releasing but we long to be released from any and all obligations we might carry for our neighbour. We heard of sight for the blind but we want every ache and pain, every experience of discomfort to taken away from us. We imagine the oppressed being freed, but we desire being given control, being the ones who have the power to make decisions and be in charge. 

It is so very easy for our longing for justice to turn into an expectation for results. We want our prayers to be heard and answered, and we are disappointed with God when they are not. Our sinful, selfish nature makes us turn hope for justice and peace into a sense of entitlement. Entitlement to God’s acts of power, entitlement to control of God’s blessing.  

We hear Jesus declare this new and hopeful reality, and we cannot help but imagine what we are going to get out of it. We cannot help but put ourselves first and imagine the world according to our own vision and our own image. 


But today, it is in the details that Jesus is pointing us to something much bigger than our expectations and desires. Luke slows down the pace so that we can hear the details, so that we hear the words of God anew, stirring deep within creation, stirring deep within the Church, stirring deep within us. 

The very first words that Luke puts in our ears: Jesus, filled with the power of the spirit. 

Though this feels like a slowed down smaller story than the Magi following the star, the voice thundering over the baptismal waters, the blessing of the wedding with good wine… We are meant to connect this moment in the local synagogue with the building movement of the spirit that has brought us here through this season. 

And the Luke draws us back to the spirit again:

“The Spirit of the Lord has named me the Christ. 

The Christ who evangelizes and brings the gospel to the poor.

The apostle who releases the captives and heals the blind and sets the oppressed free. 

The preacher who declares the year of the Lord’s grace and mercy.”

In these simple words of scripture Jesus describes a new reality. Not a new reality based on our wants and desires. A new reality grounded in the incarnation, in the God who speaks these words out loud and in our hearing. A reality grounded in the God who brings these words to life in our midst. Who makes the words real right before our eyes. 

As the people of the Nazareth Synagogue sit waiting expectantly for Jesus to interpret the meaning the Prophets words for them, Jesus has only a brief and simple sermon. 

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. 

Today, these words from the prophet have come to realization. Today, the anointed one, the saviour, the Christ has become present in flesh. Today, the God of the poor, of captives, the blind, the oppressed is here. The work of God in the world is now. 

The same spirit that led the Magi, that spoke like thunder, that provided the abundance of wine… this same spirit in Nazareth, at the synagogue, announcing to all that Jesus is the Messiah. The anointed one. The saviour of Israel. Even in this small and slowed down and familiar moment, Jesus is subtly but surely making God’s presence known. God is not far away, but here. God is with us even in our smallness, with us even in our isolation, with us in our illness and struggling, with us even when we feel abandoned and alone. 

Jesus not only announces the work of God in the world, but lays a foundation for us. For the Church. The Body of Christ proclaiming the gospel and caring for the poor. The Apostles of Christ releasing the captives and giving them a home. The Church giving sight to the blind, freeing the oppressed. People of faith preaching God’s love for the world.

Today, Jesus simply and straight forwardly announces the mission of Christ. Of the Christ who is among us in Word, Water, Bread and Wine. The Christ who IS us, we who ARE the Christ in the world, washing and feeding and loving a world in need of hope. 

We arrived today having just heard and witnessed the bigness of God:

A star that guides the Magi from the East to the Christ child. 

A voice like Thunder that declares “You are my beloved Son”

Water turned into abundant flowing wine to gladden a wedding celebration.

And we add to that list today: 

A simple sermon, preached in a small synagogue to people of faith waiting for good news. 

These are all signs of God’s presence in a world in need. 

Yet today, fulfilled and realized in our hearing, 

with all eyes fixed upon Jesus, 

despite our desire to put ourselves first and get what we selfishly desire, 

The anointed one who is working for justice and peace among us, 

The Christ speaks God’s word and declares that God is at work here, 

working in us, 

right now. 


Leaning into the Rhythms and Patterns – Pastor Thoughts

Way back in March 2020, on the 18th  or 19th I think, I received a text from my family in Edmonton that a close contact of theirs had tested positive for COVID. Within days, my family had also tested positive. Shortly thereafter, my parents and sister endured a rough couple of weeks with COVID-19. They have subsequently been dealing with some long-Covid symptoms that still linger almost two years on. 

Those first few weeks of the pandemic were punctuated by the terrifying news reports, scenes of lockdowns in Italy, and growing cases in New York City…all alongside cheers and banging pots for healthcare workers at shift-change, sourdough starters and family puzzle time. But for me and my family, they also included worried texts and phone calls to family, constantly checking in every few hours. 

At that time, knowing someone who had COVID-19 was fairly uncommon. But hearing the daily struggle from people I cared about and loved impacted me deeply. It has coloured my approach and view of this pandemic. It is one of the reasons I have been outspoken about our need to care for each other and do what we can to keep our community safe. 

Of all the devastating waves of COVID-19 so far, it has only been in this month that I have been hearing about friends, colleagues and neighbours being sick. Some part of me expected April 2020 to be like this. 

Thankfully in January of 2022 most of us have been vaccinated – I was able to get my six month booster this week, exactly 6 months to the day from my 2nd dose. My kids will get their second doses of the vaccine on the 8-week mark from their first dose. And we have been illness free – at least we think – but this Omicron variant has a high level of asymptomatic or extremely mild cases. So the news about cases happening seemingly all around, is not quite as concerning as it would have been earlier on in the pandemic.

Still, here we are anticipating being exposed to the virus that we have spent nearly two years trying to avoid. Even after all we have endured during these trying years, it was hard even 5 weeks ago to imagine that this is where we would be. 

I have been thinking about what this change in circumstances will mean for us – as individuals and families, as a community and a congregation, as province and nation. I think most of us were ready for the pandemic to wind down. Wishfully some seem to think that Omicron will be the last wave, but I don’t think that it is likely. 

Instead, I think we might see a time where we live in a pattern of waves. Peaks and troughs as waves of new variants sweep through (there is already a Delta+Omicron variant called ‘Deltacron’). Vaccines will be updated as they are with flus, and I suspect that none of us will have rolled up our sleeves for the final time. I think we could live through patterns where we increase our activity in the troughs of the waves and pull back during the peaks. How our government and public health officials manage this is for another article. 

But as we come into the season after Epiphany, I am mindful that as a community of faith, we know something about living through patterns. We know what it means to ramp up our activity at certain times, to pull back at others. We know what it is like to live our lives governed by patterns that change us and what we do. 

The scriptures are full of patterns. The 7 days of creation that is the template for our 7 weekly habit of fathering for worship on the Lord’s day. Our pattern of daily prayer (usually observed by monks and nuns): morning, evening and night prayer rooted in the psalms.

The church governs our time and seasons with patterns and rhythms. Our calendar that builds from Advent to Christmas, pulls back again after Epiphany, and then marches us through Lent, preparing for Easter. Then we pull back through the long season of green after Pentecost and begin our building again by Thanksgiving, Reformation, All Saints and Christ the King.  

And as Christians, we know that these patterns help us to tell and re-tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. They form and shape us as people and as a community. They remind us that in the midst of all the other things of life, that God’s story is beside us. That God is with us along the way, informing and interpreting our experiences, relationships, hopes, dreams and fears. 

As this pandemic begins to form patterns and shapes that dictate how we live, we already know how to do this as people of faith. God has prepared us to live according to rhythms that change and adapt us as we go. 

But we also know that whatever life throws at us, whatever struggles or hardships are placed upon us, that God and God’s story goes along with us. And that God’s story is one of forgiveness, mercy and grace. God’s story is one of New Life even when surrounded by suffering and death. 

And God has a way of turning our story into God’s story, our living and our dying, into the abundant New Life found in Christ.

Sermon on the Wedding of Cana – Running Out on the 3rd Day

John 2:1-11
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

On the 3rd day of the wedding in Cana, they ran out of wine. It might seem strange to be talking about a party running out of wine today. Last week, we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism where God spoke to the crowds and to us. It was a big deal. And then between Sundays, our world continued on through our collision course with the Omicron variant. Some have called it a new pandemic. 

Parties and gatherings and running out of wine, seems trivial in the face of governments seemingly giving up on managing the pandemic and the feeling of being left to fend for ourselves. Forget thinking about parties and gathering as friends and family, daily life has become serious business, stress filled and difficult business. So talking about a miracle where Jesus turns some water into wine at a wedding sounds almost trivial. 

Yet, despite being a place known mostly for its poor party planning, Cana is also a place a place where life is serious, stress filled and difficult too. Cana knows the dangers of the world. They too worry if there will be enough on the table, worry about bills and taxes, work and family. Cana was a small town in the middle of nowhere. They lived under and paid taxes to the Romans, to Herod, to the Temple, to the Synagogue, to the local authorities and to soldiers. 

And here they were, trying to have a nice celebration for the community. To set a couple off right for the start of their marriage. A small celebration in an otherwise dark, serious, and difficult world. 

But on the 3rd day of the wedding they run out of wine. 

Mary and Jesus and the disciples are in Cana for a wedding. They are probably at the wedding of a distant relative, but for Cana this would have been a whole community affair. Like weddings today, the weddings of ancient Israel were big celebrations. It was expected that a fortune would be spent on the party. Wine and food was to flow for a week – literally 7 days. The Bridegroom was meant to be broke by the end of the party. The hospitality, celebration and the extravagance were meant to be sign of blessing. If it was a good party, it would be a blessed marriage. 

Except it is only day 3 in Cana, and they have no wine. 

Mary points this out to Jesus in only the way a mother could. And Jesus responds in only the way a son could, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come”. Jesus has different idea of timing than his mother. But, she doesn’t care. She tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you”. 

Jesus seems to only to see a party that has been poorly planned. A party that has run out. But Mary sees something different. Mary knows that the wine has run out on day 3, not even half way through. If were only a matter of poor planning, the wine might run out on day 6, but not day 3. The family is probably too poor to throw a proper wedding. 

Maybe they didn’t know about Manitoba wedding socials in Cana. Maybe they didn’t come together as people have done here, knowing that if everyone contributes a little to everyone else, when the time comes to host your own, the burden won’t be so great. But the people of Cana almost certainly did know this, and probably had all already chipped in to the party. 

And Mary sees that this community is too poor, they don’t even have enough reserves to have one party for these newlyweds. 

Mary and Jesus embody the moments of scarcity that we face every day. We know what it is like to need for more, to fear running out, to know that the time isn’t right, to hope for something different and to long for change. We have been living small lives, the fullness and busyness of what we used to know having been curtailed dramatically. We know what it is like to have celebration plans come crashing down (just think back to Christmas Eve!).  We have experienced a kind of scarcity of living and relationship these past two years that seemed inconceivable before. 

And we know that we too are closer to running out than we like to admit. Running out of patience, and resolve, and resilience. 

Running out of hope. 

Running out is something we all fret about, and yet it is connected to a much deeper fear. At the core of our being is a fearful sense that there is not enough. That if we run out, we will suffer, we will lose, we will be alone, we will die. We fear not having enough so much that it can make us crazy. It is the fear of running out that makes fight with each other, that makes us stubborn and unable to see the needs of those people around us, that makes us hold on with all our might, even when holding on is what is killing us. 

So when Mary pushes Jesus to act and even though he resists… it is because she must see that it isn’t really about the wine or the party ending 4 days early. It is about a community without much else to hold on to, a people without hope. If there is not enough wine, then there is not enough to eat or drink. There isn’t enough to live on. The world will have overcome them. There is no future, no hope, only death. 

Mary sees this deep connection between running out of wine, and how Cana itself is not that far away from death. She sees a community that needs some hope, that needs a future. And she knowns the only person who can truly provide. 

And so Mary presses the issue, not with Jesus, but with us. 

“Do whatever he tells you.”

Easy instructions for the servants… but words that should take our breath away. 

As we face challenges and struggles of this most difficult moment of a long pandemic, of making ends meet and just keeping it together day to day…
As we wonder if there is any hope for us, if there is a future here…
If all we have to look forward to is death…
“Do whatever Jesus tells you.” is a word that demands faith from us. Faith that we really don’t know how to give. 

But God does. 

Even when it doesn’t seem like Jesus’ hour… Jesus steps into the void.

And it isn’t just an abundance of wine that Jesus provides. Instead, God breaks into the world. God comes to a small community that is forgotten by everyone else. And God blesses the wedding, blesses the whole community. 

It is not about the wine. It is about the blessing. About God’s presence in that moment. Mary seemed to know that with God present at that wedding in Cana, running out of wine was something that Jesus needed to do something about. 

And all of a sudden on the 3rd day of the wedding, when hope was lost, when there was no future… God breaks into the world and provided wine. God meets that community and gives them hope. God creates a new future. 

And if we haven’t recognized it yet, let us be clear. Our 3rd day moment of scarcity is upon us too. 

And here… today…  God is breaking into our world here and now.
God is here among us, here with us wherever we are are.
And God is offering hope.
God is offering us a future.

Even as things feel dire, God offering us life found in the gospel word. The word that finds us today wherever we are. God is meeting us friends and community that have practiced being there for each other, even over a distance, even in the midst of struggle. God is reminding us that we have been here before, and God has weathered the storm with us. God has already shown us the other side, that we do not go forward alone but together with God. 

Sp yes, the wine ran out on the 3rd of wedding at Cana.
Today, our wine, our hope, our self-propelled future is running out. 

But make no mistake. As we gather on the 3rd day, on this Sunday, the Lord’s day,  we  are meant to be reminded of that other 3rd day miracle. 

When life itself seemed to run out, when the life of God in Christ ran out on the cross, the 3rd revealed something new and something unexpected. When all hope was lost, God emerged from the empty tomb. And like the servants drawing the water turned into wine, New abundant life was revealed to us in the most surprising of ways. When we didn’t seem to have a future, God provided new life in the resurrection. 

Here on this 3rd day, here in our world, here in our community, it might feel like we are running out of wine. It might feel like there is no hope and no future. But God is revealing to us the Christ who brings delicious and abundant wine, who fill the jars of our hope, who makes sure that there is future – because Jesus has saved good wine until now, he has saved it for us. 

Pastor’s Thoughts – Running on Empty

This week has been a lot of sitting at my kitchen table on my computer while the kids go to school or do activities close by. 

Remote learning has been some of the hardest ever stretches of parenthood. Having to become a sub-par replacement kindergarten teacher, and then a kind of Educational Assistant for subsequent grades has taken all my resolve.

Still, I know that others are also facing again their most difficult moments of this pandemic. Whether it is business owners pivoting, paring back, or just shutting down. Care home residents being locked down again, care home workers barely scraping by short staffed, teachers facing the impossible shift from remote, to in-person, and then to likely hybrid due to chronic widespread absenteeism. And of course, health-care workers. What more is to be said about the unending herculean task being dumped on them? The only comparable I can imagine are the soldiers forever in the trenches during World War I. 

This fall, I had finally felt like the ground was stabilizing under my feet. We had hope for the future, light and the end of the tunnel. Even as Omicron loomed and then appeared just before Christmas, I still maintained a level of optimism. 

But this week I am no longer in that optimistic place. 

I will be honest in saying that our political leaders’ decisions to ostensibly give in to the spread of Omicron was demoralizing. Like so many, I am struggling with sending our kids back to school knowing that they will almost certainly be exposed to the virus. I am heartbroken for health-care workers, who are being left to just manage. I have empathy for all those folks who have been doing everything they possibly can to keep themselves and their community safe, only to now find themselves sick. I am standing with all those facing impossible choices between staying sane by seeing friends and family, putting food on the table, caring for family and almost certainly being exposed to the virus. 

Hope is scarce right now. We are near empty. 

This week, the lectionary comes to us with a story all about running out. 

The wedding at Cana is a key story in the post-Epiphany season. We hear it normally with an ear to the revelation of Christ in the miraculous. 

But this year, that small community of Cana just trying to throw a party and then running out of wine only 3 days into the 7 day affair feels very on point. 

Could we ever use grumpy Jesus and his mom right now! In the midst of emptiness Jesus shows up and provides an abundance. When I use this story at weddings, I usually point out that Jesus provided about 7 bottles of wine per wedding guest. That is an abundance indeed!

It is often at our lowest point, when all there seems to be is emptiness that Jesus has the habit of revealing himself to us. I suspect that right now will be no different. 

Even as we are feeling abandoned, even as we are running out and running on empty…  Jesus will certainly surprise us with abundance. When we are certain that we have run out, Christ will provide us the resolve to care for each other. Jesus will show up with the catalyst of love, mercy and grace that gives us what we need to make it through.  

Okay, so maybe there is sill some optimism in me after all.