Tag Archives: Sermon

WIlderness and Pandemic – Doubting the Promise with Sarah and Hagar

Genesis 21:8-21
8The child [Isaac] grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. 10So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” (Read the whole passage)

My son, with all the gravitas that a 6-year-old can muster, frequently refers to the COVID-19 Pandemic as the “Time Period.” 

“When this time period ends,” he will say, “we can see our friends again.”

While his confusion with pandemic terminology is smile inducing, there is a heartbreaking earnestness as well.

I also think there is something to his unintentional term… While many others have referred to this pandemic experience as an extended Lent, an extended time of sacrifice, I am not so sure that is what we are experiencing. 

Not all experiences of sacrifice and loss are the same, and this pandemic isn’t a short, defined time of sacrifice with a known end point like Lent is. 

It is a time period, a new way of being people and being communities and being society that we are going to have to live with for quite some time to come. A time period indeed. 

This is a transitional time period, a time when everything is being changed around us, whether we agree or not. 

Last week, we set out into the Wilderness with Abraham and Sarah. Their journey was not a short one. In fact, they began a journey that kept on going for generations, as Sarah laughed at the prospect of giving birth, yet then saw the fulfillment of God’s promise in Isaac. 

This wilderness journey of Abraham and Sarah feels like it is a story that is telling our story today. When so many of the familiar stories we hear on TV or in books or in movies fail to speak to this pandemic yet, this story of faith is an ancient version of our current reality. 

No, they weren’t trying to avoid a plague, but they were people who were set out into the unknown with no map, no instructions other than occasional updates from God, on what to do and where to go. And things that they never imagined possible happened to them. It was messy and complex and things often didn’t go right and they often showed a lack of trust or faith in the covenant, the promise that set them out on their journey in the first place. 

Their story sounds a lot of like ours doesn’t it? A story where we can see the same feelings, emotions, fears and anxieties that we are bearing. An immediacy that they were forced to live in… not knowing the plan for the future means you have to live in the moment. And living in the moment, just surviving day-to-day can make it hard to trust God.

Today, as we hear the next chapter in their journey, we are reminded that the promised Isaac who arrived last week was not, in fact, Abraham’s first son. Ishmael, whom Abraham conceived with Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar, was Abraham’s first born. 

And Sarah who laughed at the absurdity of bearing a son in her old age, is fearful that the child of promise would not receive God’s promise made. 

So she implores her husband to send Hagar and Ishamel away. 

Which Abraham does by God’s direction. 

And so cast out in the wilderness, Hagar and Ishmael go. But it isn’t long before they are in dire trouble… and facing an impossible choice, to die with her son, or to at least have one of them survive, Hagar leaves her son under a bush and walks away. 

Filled with unimaginable grief at her impossible choice, Hagar implores God to least spare her watching her son die. 

Two women in the wilderness discover new complications, new unimaginable circumstances, new impossibilities, new absurdities. They are in not just in the wilderness, but wilderness upon wilderness, complication upon complication, mess upon mess. 

How could either Sarah or Hagar be expected to carry on in faith, to trust that God’ promises would hold true? They were both human beings. 

Like Sarah, we too have been living in wilderness upon wilderness. Even though it seemed like the whole world was put on pause in the early stages of this pandemic we soon discovered it was not. Violence, house fires, gun shots and a shooter dressed like the RCMP in Nova Scotia cracked open the heart of a nation. George Floyd was murdered underneath the knee of a police officer, causing protests to erupt around the world. Accusations of racism and discrimination have tarnished the reputation of one of the crown jewels of our city at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. And the one party leader of colour in Canada was kicked out of the house of commons after he called another MP a racist after that MP scuttled the passage of bill declaring the existence of systemic racism in the RCMP. 

Wilderness upon wilderness. Complication upon complication. Mess upon mess. 

Even though Sarah had been given a child of the promise, she couldn’t keep up the faith. She was human after all. 

Even though Hagar had been given a child of the promises she couldn’t keep up the faith. She too was human. 

And even though we are made children of the promise in the Waters, even though we are given a new identity and belonging in the bread and wine, even though we are given forgiveness and new life in the Word, we too cannot believe the promise, day after day, week after week, year after year. It is simply not in us to keep the faith that way…. The wilderness gets us every time. Ever since the garden of Eden, ever since Adam and Eve trusted themselves above God. We hear the promise, but cannot keep up the faith. 

And yet, the promise does not depend on us. 

When Sarah laughed, God still brought new life into a barren womb. 

Almost casually, God waltzes into Sarah and Abraham’s wilderness and declares that the promise will be fulfilled. 

When Hagar was at the limit and prepared to give up, God answers Hagar’s pleas with gentle assurance, with water and the renewed covenant.  

When these women cannot keep the faith, God’s promise does not rely on their ability to believe it. 

Instead God’s promise holds true, God promises includes wilderness moments, wilderness upon wilderness moments. God’s plan for Sarah and Hagar, for Isaac and Ishmael extends beyond their present wilderness into future generations. God’s plan for these first families of faith begin in wilderness, in transition, in wandering through the unknown. 

And the convent extends through generations, through kingdoms, through exodus and exile, from judges and prophets, all the way to Messiah. And Messiah’s promise of Good News comes through fledgling communities to empires, institutions and faithful generations upon generations to us. 

And even with all of that. 

Even as we laugh at the absurd promise that we are God’s Body, knit together in water, bread and wine, when we cannot even be in each other’s presence, let alone share these things… God comes into our wilderness with the Word, the Word of promises given for us, week after week. 

Even as we are prepared to give up, unable to keep the faith in the face of pandemics, and shootings, and police brutality. In the face of generations of racist systems, and hypocritical institutions, hypocritical leaders who do not get it… God deals gently with us, granting promise  in the word, relief for parched and cracked souls nearing death. 

And in the wilderness that keeps us from seeing beyond the present, God’s declares that God has plans for our future, plans that span generations and that include multitudes more numerous than the stars in the sky. 

God promises that God is not done with us, wether we believe it or not, whether our wilderness upon wilderness is more than we can bear or not. 

And in this wilderness, this transition, God reminds us again our story is being told again, told in ancient stories of faith, told in the present moment that we can see today. 

And so like Sarah and Hagar we fail to keep the faith…

We cannot help it. 

But God can.

And God does. 

And God declares that God’s promises will bring us through the wilderness, through the wilderness upon wilderness, to when this Time Period is over and we will see our friends again. 

In the meantime, God’s promises will still hold true, even when we don’t believe them…

Promises that will carry us through the wilderness to the promised land. 

“I can’t breathe” and the Fires of Pentecost

GOSPEL: John 20:19-23
19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (Read the whole passage)

“I can’t breathe”

If you have been paying attention to the news at all this week, you will know that this is a quote from George Floyd. George Floyd was killed by a police officer kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes as Mr. Floyd was being arrested by Minneapolis Police. The officers involved were fired and one has been charged with murder. 

It is another incident to add to a long list of black men and other people of colour being killed in encounters with police. While at the same time our news has also been filled with images of white protestors congregating at state capitals, in masks and brandishing assault rifles who are allowed to “protest” without police engaging. 

This past week protests have grown violent in Minneapolis and around the United States. Cities on fire and protesting crowds have been flooding our news feeds. 

Breath, fire and crowds. 

These are the images of Pentecost. Pentecost 2020. 

Once again, we arrive at another significant church festival, and things aren’t the way they usually are supposed to be.

Pentecost at home and social distancing is a something we never imagined as a way to mark this moment… at least not until just a few weeks ago. 

Like Lent, Holy Week and Easter this year, the Pandemic has imparted a certain authenticity to the moment. Lent required an unusual amount of sacrifice this year. Our Easter confinement to our homes was more like the original Easter than we ever imagined. And just last week, as the disciples wondered when things were going to go back to the good ol’ days, we too have been wondering when things might return to normal, or at least return and open up at all. 

Today, the Easter story is now bringing that community of disciples to an important moment. A moment of transformation and change. All the preparing that Jesus has been doing, helping his followers for what comes next, for their life as an Easter community comes to fruition as the spirit pushes them out into the streets and through them proclaims the gospel to all the nations. 

As we hear the Pentecost story each year, it is easy to get focused on the well known details of the story. It is easy to think that it is all about the disciples having tongues of fire landing on them (what is a tongue of fire anyways?), about going out into the streets and preaching in all different languages, about the accusation that they are drunk and finally the 3000 people that were baptized. Those details that lull us into thinking that Pentecost is all about the rapid expansion of the church, a model for faithful church planting and growing, a sign of the Holy Spirit’s blessing that good ministry is happening. 

Yet, this year amidst lockdowns and quarantines, we cannot even offer up our merger reproductions of that Pentecost experience by gathering for our small neighbourhood outdoor worship services and BBQs that we usually celebrate with.

All the while, just down the road from Winnipeg in Minneapolis, the images of fire and crowds, protests and anger speak to another version of pentecost this year. 

And they remind us of police involved shootings of indigenous people here in Winnipeg. We are forced to recognize that pandemic has locked down many things, but not the complicated (and often racist) relationship with police that people of colour have both in our country and just across the border to the south of us. 

And so despite the lack of tongues of fire, speaking in different languages, and 3000 baptisms… despite not having our usual pentecost celebrations and observances… and with the unmistakable pentecost images flooding our news this week… we might be wondering what is the Spirit actually up to among us? What does Pentecost mean for us today in 2020?

In John’s gospel we are given a clue. 

As the disciples are hiding out after the crucifixion, hiding in fear from the outside world, Jesus appears in their midst, speaking peace. 

Nothing else is familiar in this moment, but peace – shalom – is something they know. The greeting of the faithful, the peace of God shared between the people of Israel in the synagogue, in the street, in homes, wherever they are – Shalom Aleichem. 

And then Jesus breathes on them the spirit, the sign of life itself, the breath of God, breathed into Adam and Eve, now breathed again into them. 

Peace and breath given by the Word of God. 

The Word who was there in the beginning, speaking all of creation into existence.

The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. 

The Word who rose from the dead on the 3rd day, transforming the life of creation itself, detaching us from death. 

And now the Word whose breath came upon the disciples, and 7 weeks later, whose breath and fire drove the disciples out into the streets to proclaim the good news to all nations.

The Good News of resurrected life found in the Word of life. 

This Word brought the disciples to the Pentecost moment. 

But Pentecost, this story central our identity as church, is not the destination. 

Pentecost was not and is not the new thing. 

Even as this community of disciples had gone from following Jesus for 3 years, to the experiences of Holy Week, and the re-orientation of Easter and resurrection, even as Jesus prepared them to be the new Easter community…

Pentecost was not the destination. Pentecost was temporary, a transitional space, a moment of disconnection. It was unlike anything they had experienced before, nothing like offering sacrifice in the temple, nothing like learning the Torah in the synagogue. 

And Pentecost, big spirit filled gatherings, full of converts hearing the good news and being baptized… is neither what this Easter community would become. 

Pentecost is a moment of disruption and disconnection. The moment that separated the disciples from the baggage they carried from before. The desire for the return of the Kingdom of Israel that they were still asking for just last week. From their desire for power and control, from their desire to shape and contort the spirit into their image. 

Pentecost instead was making them leave the old things, the old ways behind. 

And soon the early church became small communities of faith spread throughout the Empire, communities of 15 or 25 or 40 gathering around the Word and the shared meal of the Eucharist. 

And yet through all of it, the thread that connected this new Easter community to the faith that birthed them, to the ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, to Pentecost and then to the early church… the thread that connected them was the Word. 

The Word of God speaking from the beginning of time and still speaking to them now. 

And just as this pandemic world is unfamiliar to us and we don’t know where we are going, it is plain to see the we are living in our own Pentecost moment. The Spirit is not necessarily showing us the new thing that we are about to become, Pandemic church is not our new future. 

Instead, the spirit is stripping us of our baggage. 

Stripping us our of attachment to the old ways that we believed being faithful was all about. Of our attachment to culture and traditions that may not be helping us anymore, stripping us of our attitudes and assumptions that contribute to prejudice, racism and white supremacy that allow for a world where Black Indigenous People of Colour can be killed in broad daylight with almost no consequence, even as they cry out, “I can’t breathe.”

Stripping us of all the things that we thought we so important about being church, with the hopes that we will discern again what is essential. 

Yet, Pentecost is not our destination. 

This moment is one of transition for us too, the way are as community in this pandemic world is not the new way are going to be forever.

But as we await the new thing that we will become, Jesus is still speaking peace to us. 

Speaking peace in our homes, behind our locked doors, tying us to the thread of the Word that has been with us all along the way. 

The Word that centred the Church from before the time it was the Church.

The Word that birthed faith in us, in well-traditioned church communities that knew how to be church in their time. 

The Word whose resurrection and Easter story has been gathering us for generations, and will continue to gather us, even if it is in new ways. 

The Word who breathes the spirit in us, even in our socially distanced Easter, even in our homes at Pentecost. 

This Word is the constant all the way through, while the fires of Pentecost seem to be burning the rest of the world down around us. 

This is Pandemic of 2020 is our Pentecost moment when we know everything is changing while we still don’t know what we are changing into.

But Pentecost this year is also the reminder that the Word of God has not left us, nor sent us into this new word alone. 

Instead Jesus is coming again into our midst, speaking Peace to us, bringing us that familiar wind of the spirit, that familiar Word that gives us life.

Imagining The Destination and Not Knowing the Way

GOSPEL: John 14:1-14
Jesus said to the disciples:] 1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Today we enter into the second half of the season of Easter. We had been staying still, soaking in the the moment of resurrection, the stories of Easter beginning with the women at the tomb, then the disciples hiding away in the locked room, and then the two walking down the road to Emmaus. Coming back to that resurrection day because of its singular significance for us as a touchstone of faith. 

But then last Sunday we heard about the Good Shepherd, the Christ who leads us through the dark valleys, who shows us the way to the other side of the dangers that await us in this world, and it wasn’t just a comforting image to think about. Good Shepherd Sunday moved us from the immediacy of the first Easter morning and the immediacy of our pandemic lockdown, moves us onto the next step of this collective journey were are on as citizens of a pandemic world and as followers of Jesus.

This middle Sunday of the Easter Season moved us along the story, and put us into the second half of the Easter Season… to the part of the story of faith about becoming an Easter community and Easter people… it sounds great, but just like for the disciples, it is also scary for us. 

Today, we hear a familiar passage from John, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…” This conversation between Jesus and his disciples comes to us from Maundy Thursday. Jesus has already raised Lazarus from the dead, and rode into Jerusalem hailed as a conquering Messiah. This conversation is first heard in moments before Jesus is eating the Last Supper with his disciples and friends. He is about to be arrested, put on trial and sentenced to death. This conversation happens in the shadow of the cross and just around the corner from the resurrection. 

And yet, Thomas (who will later demand to see the resurrected Jesus for himself) is wanting more information. He remembers following Jesus for the past 3 years, not really knowing where Jesus was going or what surprises might befall them, where the end goal might be. He is certain that he and the others won’t find their way on their own. 

Philip then comes out with it, he wants Jesus to show them the way, to fast-forward to the end and to show his followers the Father. 

The disciples, even after all they have seen of Jesus, all the miracles and healing, the exorcism and his preaching… they still have no idea where Jesus headed. They don’t know what Jesus is up to. They don’t know where they are headed, and they certainly don’t know how to get there. 

And yet the disciples seem to keep imagining the end goal, the destination, the point of arrival. They watched Jesus being greeted by hungry crowds wherever they traveled and they imagined celebrity. They watched Jesus debate and argue and put the religious authorities in their places, and they imagined power and influence. They see Jesus ride into Jerusalem like a king, and they imagine a throne room, a general commanding armies to victory. 

This whole time, the disciples have been thinking of the destination, imagining that possibilities of what this journey following Jesus bring them to, reward them with, change their fortunes to. 

This coming Friday, it will be 2 months since we last gathered in person for worship. Back then we were hopeful of being back together by Easter Sunday. How naive we were. We are now 5 Sundays on from Easter, and even with lots of conversation in the news and on social media about re-opening our world, we know that things aren’t just going back to the way they were before. The way ahead is mostly unclear with a lot of ideas and possibilities, but little certainty. Might we be still be tuning into the worship on Facebook for Canada Day? Will our Back to Church BBQ be a zoom gathering? Will will be lighting virtual candles for All Saints? Will Christmas Eve worship involve singing silent night from our respective front porches (if it isn’t too cold)?

We have come into a time where making plans is nearly impossible and every decision we took for granted before is now a calculation about risk and need, about timing and importance. Knowing what will happen and what will be possible for us next week or next month is simply beyond us. 

And so we stumble along, day to day, hour to hour, waiting for clarity and a path forward.

But more importantly, we hold onto some idea of a destination. We imagine the world as it used to be, or perhaps an even better version than that. We want to arrive at the moment when public gatherings and sharing public space are normal, unthinking activities again: Haircuts, grocery shopping, visits to the dentist, going to the movies, chats at the office water-cooler, dinner out with friends, backyard Barbecues with neighbours, airline flights where the biggest hassles are crying babies and people who insist in putting their seat back into your knees. And of course we imagine gathering together as a community of faith, greeting one another with handshakes and hugs, singing together again, sharing the peace, gathering at the table of the Lord, sharing coffee and cake after worship. 

“Jesus, we don’t know where this is going, how can we know the way?”

“Just show us the vision and we will be satisfied.” 

It isn’t surprising that this text is so often used at funerals. There is comfort in our visions of the destination. The great house where there is a room for us, the vision of our loved ones being welcomed into eternity is something to hold onto in the midst of crisis and grief. 

Yet, as Jesus speaks over the Last Supper to his disciples about the dwelling place of God with many rooms, he isn’t wanting us to imagine a giant mansion in the sky. In fact, it isn’t about the destination of our imagining at all. 

Where Jesus is going is to the cross. And the dwelling place of many rooms is not so much a mansion, but the opening up of creation itself… the opening up of us ourselves. The dwelling place of God will now be among mortals we hear at Christmas and incarnation. It fulfilled at Easter and in the resurrection. The creation that chose selfishness and therefore death in the fall, is about to be reunited with the creator who is making room within Godself. The creation that was once closed to new life will now be the home of God, and we will be welcome into the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

And the way to get there is not to imagine the destination… But rather through the One who is the Way, the One who shows us the Father, the One who will face separation and isolation, who will go over the brink of sin and death… this One… 

This Christ is our Way. 

This Christ our Truth. 

This Christ is our Life. 

This One is where we are going, this One brings us into God’s way. 

As the disciples moved on from the day of the empty tomb, they moved into a new Easter world. A world where the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection defined their community, defined their purpose, and defined their lives. They moved into a world where they didn’t always know what might be next for them, yet where God had opened God’s new dwelling, God’s welcome right there, wherever they were. 

And as we wonder what is next for us and when we might get to our imagined destination, Jesus reminds us that God has always been our way. 

That the place that Jesus has always been going to has been to us. 

Meeting us in the Word and showing us the Father. 

Welcoming us into the dwelling place of God in the waters of baptism. 

Showing us the way at the table of the Lord, and transforming us into the Body of Christ. 

Sure we don’t know when we will get back to work, or school, or shopping malls, or football games. And we don’t know when we might welcome our family and friends again into our homes and to our dinner tables…. 

But as the Body of Christ we have always been going to the same place… always to New Life in God. 

And how do we get here, what is our way?

Today Jesus reminds us again, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

Questions in the dark

GOSPEL: John 3:1-17

1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” … 9Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? (Read the whole passage)

Our Lenten journey takes us from the wilderness and desert of last week, to the dark of the night this week. And not just because of daylight savings time and a later sunrise this morning. Lent began last week as Jesus was driven out into the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and prayer, followed by temptation. We watched at Jesus showed us the way into the wilderness, into a moment of everything being stripped away that distracts from God.

On this second Sunday in Lent, rather than Jesus going into the wilderness seeking to grow in faith… it is a Pharisee, a leader among the people of Israel who is coming to Jesus for answers. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in the darkness away from the prying eyes of the city, risking his reputation and safety in order to ask this wandering preacher who threatens the established order, just who he is. Nicodemus takes this risk of meeting with Jesus because he needed to know more, he needed answers of some kind.

Nicodemus might not be wandering in the desert, but he is showing us another kind of wilderness

Nicodemus begins by stating that he knows that Jesus is more than just a wandering preacher. The signs and miracles say so. Nicodemus wants to know more.

But Jesus is cautious. He answers cryptically, in case Nicodemus is a Pharisees intent on catching Jesus preaching heresy. And so Jesus and Nicodemus begin a somewhat strange conversation about being born again, about the physical impossibility and about the unknowable nature of the spirit.

“How can these things be?” Nicodemus asks Jesus.

Maybe it was then that Jesus knew that Nicodemus wasn’t interested in tricking Jesus into some trouble, but really just wanted to know more about who Jesus was. Maybe there was something in the way that Nicodemus asked the question, pleaded with Jesus to understand.

Maybe even a religious leader, a teacher of Israel did not understand what God was up to in the world, could not see the Messiah right in front of his own eyes, could not comprehend what the Christ coming in flesh meant for creation.

Maybe Jesus needed to know just what humanity and all creation did not know and couldn’t understand.

As Nicodemus comes in the darkness to ask Jesus his question, to ask for understanding, it is about more than idle curiosity. Nicodemus comes with true doubt, true wondering. Not just about Jesus, but about himself and the world. He wants to know who Jesus is, want to know if Jesus is the Messiah because Nicodemus wants to know if the world is worthy of redemption. Can God fix the problems, the suffering, the sin, the death. Can God save God’s people? Can Nicodemus be saved, is Nicodemus worthy of salvation?

These aren’t the questions one asks over lunch at the local coffee shop. This isn’t water cooler chit chat. These are the kind of questions that scroll through our minds when yet another news story about the Coronavirus is told on the evening news. It is the wondering that we succumb to at the end of the day, after all the busy-ness of the day has quieted down. It is the kind of questioning that keeps us awake at night, starting into the dark abyss. Nicodemus asks the kind of questions that can only be whispered at night in the hopes that no one really hears them.

We know these questions because we have probably asked them too. Can this world be saved? Is there something that can be done about war and violence that never seems to end? Is there safety in the face of illness and disease that is spreading indiscriminately? Will our political leaders be able to step up, finally, at this moment?

And of course there are the questions that narrow down from the global scale. Will my family be safe? Will my job be affected? Do I need to fear my foreign neighbours?

Not to mention the regular worries that keep us up at night about our lives, and relationships and futures.

So we get it. We know what Nicodemus is up to, what he is feeling when he shows us to asks Jesus what is going on? Nicodemus just wants to know if there is hope for his community, his family, for himself.

Last week, as the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness he asked questions too. Questions that Jesus gave careful answers to.

And yet, as Nicodemus comes in the night, he needs something different. Not the warnings that Jesus gave to the devil, but assurance. Even as Jesus begins with cryptic answers about being born again and about the unpredictable spirit… Nicodemus presses for more.

“How can these things be?”

And Jesus knows that Nicodemus needs something different, something more.

And so Jesus begins with something familiar. Jesus uses an image that would have been well known to Nicodemus. If Nicodemus wants to know who Jesus is, look to the stories of God’s people that have been passed on for generations. To the story of the rescue of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Rescue from sin and suffering, rescue from foreign powers and hardened oppressors, recuse from seemingly arbitrary and pointless death.

Just as the people of Israel were fleeing Egypt, only to be set upon by poisonous snakes, Moses lifted up the bronze serpent and the people of God looked upon it and were saved.

Nicodemus wants to know if his world can be saved by God, if the Messiah can do anything about this mess? Jesus reminds him of one of the lowest points of the people of Israel.

And then in one of the clearest passages of the bible – one that so many of us were encouraged to memorize as a concise articulation of the Gospel – Jesus gives it straight to Nicodemus.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…”

It is as if Jesus is saying, you see how God gave the people the bronze snake is their most desperate moment… well the Father is giving me to the world, in your most desperate moment.

If Nicodemus needed the questions that keep him awake at night answered, Jesus gives him what he needs. Jesus gives him an answer that gets right to the heart of Nicodemus’ fears and anxieties. Jesus gives an answer for which there can be no misunderstanding.

There in the dark night, Jesus shines a light on all the sin, suffering and death of the world and declares that even that stuff, God has a plan for.

It is not a fix in the moment and it isn’t about just making it all go away.

But it is a promise. A promise that there is hope and life on the other side. That all these things that keep us awake at night will not define us, they won’t control us, they won’t overpower us.

The Father has sent the Son, and the Son is on his way to save.

It is the same promise and hope that we are given week after week. Even as our nighttime anxieties and fears, our questions pile up… Jesus meets us here (even in the early morning) and reminds us again and again.

For God so loved the world…. For God so loved us… For God so loved you.

That all the sin, suffering and death. That the unending wars, and scary viral outbreaks, and rail blockades that divide us, and inept politicians who don’t seem to be able to do anything helpful… all the things that keep up at night…

That God has sent the Son for us in the midst of all that, and God has sent the Son to save.

To save us up high from the cross, to save us by walking with us out of empty graves.

To hear our nighttime questions and to go with us on lenten wilderness journeys.

“How can these things be?” We ask with Nicodemus.

And Jesus reminds us again, “For God so loved the world, For God so loves us.”

Amen.

Nailing down the mountain top

Matthew 17:1-9

…And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Read the whole passage) (Read the whole passage)

We are on the move again. Jesus is taking us to new places, to see new sights. Our journey first began in Advent. We made our way to Bethlehem, to the stable manger, to the Baby Jesus born to a virgin mother. And our journey continued through Epiphany, where the wise man travelled far to see this saviour born to human parents.

Yet, for the last 4 weeks, we paused. We rested. We took a break on the mountain side as we listened to Jesus sermon on the mount that begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” And we listened as Jesus talked about Salt and Light, as Jesus re-interpreted our understanding of the commandments, as Jesus reminded us that we do not save ourselves by our works, but that God alone saves.

Well today, Jesus gathers us up again to go up the mount of Transfiguration. With Peter, James and John, we find ourselves on the mountain top. And we witness something amazing, we witness Jesus transformed. Jesus shows these disciples, and shows us, a glimpse of the glory of God.

And you would think that the disciples would get it. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, they have been struggling to understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is all about. In this moment, as Jesus is surround by Moses and Elijah, the two most important figures of the Old Testament, the disciples should figure it out. They should be able to see that Jesus is that long hoped for Messiah, the one we waited for in Advent, the one we saw born in a manger, the one we saw begin a ministry of teaching, preaching and healing.

Peter, thinks he has it figured it out. Simon who Jesus has re-named Peter or “The Rock” on which he will build the church. If Peter had been alive today, he would have been a salesman type, maybe the top dog at a car dealership, and he would be chair of the council and he would be the biggest giver in the congregation. When Peter spoke, we all would listen.

And Peter does what Church people do best. Once he finds a good place to worship and good place to experience God, he suggests a building project. If you want to get people excited and involved in the church, build something and people will get on board in droves.

Peter knows that when you find something good, you need to get it nailed down, make sure you can keep hold of it as long as you can.

(Pause)

Jim had been a member of the St. David’s property committee for 2 years now. One Saturday a month, he would meet with the committee in the church basement at 7AM. Or least that was the official start time, but the rest of the committee, Jim suspected, was always there long before 7:00, with half finished cups of coffee in hand. At the age of 47, Jim was the youngest member by at least 25 years.

Each month, Simon, the chair of the committee, would call the meeting to order and then read a list of chores that had accumulated over the previous month. Simon was definitely the leader of the group, whatever he decided, was the rule of law for the property committee. After Simon read the list, the committee would spend the morning carrying out their list of tasks. Changing light bulbs, replacing furnace filters, tightening screws and nails anywhere they were loose.

This month however, Simon did not read from his list. This month he passed around a sheet of paper to each member. It was a list of questions. Simon then spoke, “Our worship attendance has been growing. The church is almost full every Sunday and I think it is time we expanded our sanctuary and added some improvements. When I suggested the idea to council, they were not in favour. So we are going to poll the congregation and then show council that this is what everyone wants”. Simon read the list of questions on the survey. Would your worship experience be enhanced by a nicer sanctuary? Would upholstered pews be more comfortable? Would adding a balcony allow more people to attend? Would you be willing to give more offering for a renovation?

Jim felt uneasy about this idea, but Simon had already placed a copy in every member’s mailbox.

(Pause)

We are often like Peter on the mountaintop. When we find something good or that we like, we want to get it nailed down. Peter sees Jesus transfigured and wants to keep him that way. We see God’s glory in some manner and we wish we could control it.

But Jesus has different ideas.

Jesus is merely passing through. Jesus is on the move. Jesus has plans for transformation. Jesus no intention of stopping now.

Jesus invited Peter, James and John up the mountain. And Jesus brought them in order to reveal glimpse of divinity, a glimpse of God. But Jesus is also headed down the mountain. As Jesus reveals himself to these three disciples, Jesus is showing them, not just who he is, but what he is going to do. Or in other words, Jesus is set to show the disciples that God is about do something that will change and transform the whole world. God is putting into motion a new way for creation. God is reversing the direction of travel, and planning a new way for the world, a new path.

Peter’s desire to nail things down, to control this wonderful moment points to a deeper problem within us. Our desire to keep things controlled and unchanging, to make sure we keep a hold of the things we think are good. And this leads us only in one direction. When we nail things down we are headed towards death.

(Pause)

The following month at the St. David’s Property committee meeting, Jim arrived a little late. He joined in the middle of Simon reading, one at a time, the responses to his survey. The responses seemed to neither for nor against renovating. People were somewhat interested but not really enough to want to pay for anything too costly. Simon seemed to be getting more and more frustrated with every response he read.

Simon finally got to the last survey. Simon’s face turned red as he looked at it. He slammed it down on the table… Jim could see that only one question had been answered. Simon hadn’t even read the answer, and instead was fuming in his seat because he had been expecting overwhelming support for his plan.

Jim picked the survey up and began reading the one answer out loud. It was to the question “Would your worship experience be enhanced by a nicer sanctuary”.

“Dear property committee” someone wrote.

“I live in world that is always trying to be or get the newest and best thing. In my job, I have to be constantly looking for more, to be better, to find something that will attract more buyers. I feel like I am always running up a mountain.

That is why I come here. That is why I worship here. At St.David’s I get to come down the mountain. When I see the people around me, when we sing and pray, when we share the peace and drink coffee together, I get to see God. And God isn’t on the mountaintop. God comes down to be with me, with us. God walks with me, and after I worship here each week, I am reminded that Jesus goes with me, that Jesus comes and trudges up my mountain each week and he brings me back down, back to be here with you. Back to the place where I can see God in your faces, and I can hear God’s voice in your voices. That is why I worship here, not because of the building, but because of the people, because of you.”

Jim set the paper down. For the first time Jim had ever seen, the group was silent. Most were just staring into their coffee. Simon was just staring at Jim.

Jim then said to the committee, “That was my survey”.

Simon simply nodded and said, “Well, I guess that is that. Let’s get back to work”. And off the committee went attending to their regular monthly chores.

(Pause)

As Church people, even we can forget what Jesus is doing in our world, what Jesus is doing right here among us. Today, we are reminded of who Jesus is, we glimpse the glory of God and then Jesus brings us down the mountain, despite Peter’s desire to nail things down.

We are descending into Lent. We on our way with Jesus into the valley and shadow of death. We will be reminded on Ash Wednesday that we are dust and ash. We will be reminded that we are dead. And journey through Lent will take us to the next the next mountain.

We will go with Jesus to Golgatha.

And on mount Golgatha Jesus will finally be nailed down.

Jesus will hang on a cross.

What Peter wanted to preserve on the mount of Transfiguration today, humanity will want to kill on Good Friday.

But that is what God has come to show us. Not that Jesus can be transformed, but that Jesus is going to do the transforming. Jesus is going stare death right in the face and change it. Move it. Transform it. Re-make it.

Death will no longer be death. We will no longer be dead.

Death will become life. We will be made alive.

Alive in Christ. Alive to move and change and be different. Alive to go with Jesus up and down the mountains. Alive with Jesus to see God in people around us and to be reminded that we are not alone but that we are on the journey together.