Tag Archives: Sermon

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

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. 

Preparing the Way – There is No Answer in Waiting

Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
(Read the whole passage)

It has been a while hasn’t it. 

Many of you know that back on November 2nd, I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy. I am still recovering, as the nerve in the right side of my face continues to be inflamed and refuses to send the the signals to my face muscles to do their job. 

So I have been on sick leave for a few weeks. Still sending emails and sharing worship, but this week I am trying a little more. Including a sermon. 

When you last heard from me, it was on All Saints Sunday. Now, we are into the second week of Advent. We have started a new church year which brings with it a new gospel to focus on. This is the year of Mark. 

As we begin making our way through Mark’s gospel this church year, it stands in contrast to the other gospels. Unlike the start of Matthew or Luke, Mark’s telling of the incarnation – of Jesus coming into the world – is a little different than what we might expect. 

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” 

There are no angels, pregnant virgins, shepherds or mangers. There’s no Christmas pageant using Mark’s account. No shepherds in bathrobes awkwardly delivering Mark’s dialogue. 

Mark gets straight to the point. Yet, there is a lot being said in the economy of Mark’s words. 

The good news starts now. The good news starts with this one named Jesus. And this one named Jesus is the son of God. 

Then to explain that statement about the good news and Jesus, Mark quotes from the prophet Isaiah. But Mark expects a lot of his readers, and when he quotes from Isaiah, he expects that the first line is enough for us to fill in the rest and get the picture. Fortunately for those of who haven’t memorized the 66 chapters of the book of Isaiah, we read the passage that Mark quotes just a few moments ago. 

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to her, that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2)

This passage from Isaiah comes at key moment for the people of Israel. The first 39 chapters told of the story of the exile into the Babylon, when the religious and royal class of Israel was forcibly removed from their home and sent to live in Babylon for generations. 

Yet we come into the story precisely a the moment that everything changes. The exile has ended, and Isaiah pleads with God to be gentle with God’s weary people. They have endured a lot and need the time to recover. And now begins the story of the return of God’s people to their homeland. God is no longer the wrathful God who has angrily sent the exiles away because of their sins, rather God is now the gentle saviour redeeming the tired and weary people of Israel. The exiles’ experience of God is completely transformed from this moment onwards. 

And Mark quotes Isaiah expecting that we know this story well, the story of exile and return from exile. Even more so Mark expects that we will see that he is connecting Jesus to this important moment when everything changes for the Israelites. 

Mark is saying, “Hey remember that moment when God changed everything by bringing the exiles home? Well, this Jesus is changing everything too.”

And then Mark takes another left turn, keeping us on our toes only a few lines into the story, by introducing us to John the Baptist. 

John, the rough around the edges desert preacher and prophet, who is attracting crowds and gaining the popularity of the people while drawing the ire of those in charge. John is quite the character dressed in camel hair, eating giant desert insects and preaching from a river. 

But perhaps most jarring of all in this short passage of Mark’s, is that John is quite the opposite to Isaiah. If Isaiah is pleading to God for comfort, compassion, and tenderness for God’s weary people, John is warning of the swift kick in the pants to come if they don’t repent. 

So is anyone confused by all this stuff in Mark? Good, that is the point. 

Not unlike the Israelites, we might know a little something about being tired… about being weary… we might know about longing and waiting for God… for Messiah to show up, to transform our lives. It is exhausting trying to keep the faith and have hope for the future.

More so than just about any Advent that we have lived through, we understand the waiting of the people of Israel. We know what is it to live under the thumb of a power that we are powerless against. We know what it is to hope for salvation, so live day to day until something changes, until a new world comes about, one that we simply do not know when it will arrive. 

The ways in which we labour, strive, suffering and struggle these days is not a short list. Whether we are suffering lonliness, anticipating a much reduced Christmas than ever imagined. Whether it is the threat of loss of business, jobs, income and offering. 

Whether it is stressed out health care-workers, teachers, front-line workers, parents and children. 

Whether it is families serparated by quarantines and restrictions, distances that cannot be travelled or public health orders that cannot be broken. 

Whether it is those suffering from COVID-19, contracting the illness and its hard to endue symptoms. 

Whether is families who are grieving as dozens die each day across our province. 

Take your pick. 

The list of burdens and suffering is long. It’s no wonder we feel weary. It’s no wonder we wait for God to show up in our lives and in the lives of our family, friends and neighbours. 

Here’s the thing about Advent: when waiting for Messiah becomes about things deeper than opening the little doors on advent calendars and collecting our chocolate treat, or counting the days until Christmas, it raises questions. Questions about where this Messiah that we are waiting for is in our world. Where Messiah is in our lives.

We long for the God of Isaiah to come and show us weary people some compassion and tenderness. 

We know that we need the Messiah of John the Baptist to come and give us swift kick the pants to keeps from atrophy. 

But it’s the waiting… the waiting is what we cannot abide. 

Because waiting has no answers until it is over. 

This is what John and Isaiah have in common. They are both speaking to the waiting of God’s people. Whether they are proclaiming a tender God who brings comfort or a powerful God who comes preaching repentance… they both are speaking to people who wait. To exiles whose waiting in exile is about to end, to Israelites waiting under oppression for Messiah. 

To 21st century Christians waiting for God in the midst of pandemic lockdowns. 

The promise is and has always been that Messiah is coming soon. 

As Isaiah says: 

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

    make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,

    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

    and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Take you pick of burdens that cause us to wait, 

valleys or hills and mountains, 

crooked paths and rough ways, 

Messiah is coming for all it. 

For people who need the tender compassion of God, 

for people who need the swift kick in the pants. 

For people who carry the burdens of work and communities, 

Of sepearated families

Of caregivers living through hell

Of families grieving through unimaginable loss

Messiah is coming for all of that too. 

And yes, not knowing when Messiah is coming, and having to wait is the hardest part of all. 

Having live in Advent not just for 4 weeks this year but 40 weeks with no end in sight, with its questions about where God is in our world and in our lives is not easy. We want to know, how, where, when. 

But the only answer is a promise, a promise that we hear every Advent again and again.

Messiah is coming.

Messiah is coming for a world in need. 

Messiah is coming for people of faith who hate waiting 

Messiah is coming for  you and for me. 

Messiah is coming… 

Soon. 

Amen.

Bubonic Reformation & COVID-19 Reformation

John 8:31–36
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 (Read the whole passage)

A sure sign for Lutherans that the end of the church year is just around the corner, is the Sunday when we break out A Mighty Fortress, put out the red paraments and vestments, and remind ourselves from whence we came – Reformation Sunday. 

And here in 2020, we are 503 years on from the commemoration of the day when Martin Luther went to the church in Wittenberg where he nailed to the door his 95 Theses regarding the sale of indulges and the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. While some might argue the Reformation was already on its way, this moment is often remembered as the spark that began the period of great change in the way Christians around the world would gather, worship and ultimately understand salvation and faith. 

And interestingly enough, the reformation also took place during a plague. The bubonic plague had been cropping up around Europe for decades and in 1527 it came to Wittenberg. Martin Luther wrote to a friend with some advice about how to minister and care for his people during that time. He said, 

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

So it seems that Reformation and pandemic go hand in hand. And with all that we as the church have endured and adapted to during the past months of the COVID-19 Pandemic,  one might wonder if we too are experiencing a reformation of sorts, a transformation in the way we gather, worship and ultimately understand salvation and faith. 

As we sort out just what is going in our world and in our community faith, it is perhaps appropriate that today we contemplate the Reformation. On this day, we remember Martin Luther standing up against the injustices of the pope and the church – the selling of salvation, the abuses by church leaders, the exploitation of the faithful. We remember that our faith and our beliefs are important. Important enough to die for, important enough to defend. 

But on Reformation Sunday we also remember the division that change caused. We remember those who died as a result of the the protests of the Reformers. We remember that between 125,000 to 250,000 people died in the peasants war that was inspired by Luther’s writings. We remember that after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door the church in Wittenberg, Christianity was split from 2 denominations (Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox) into as many as 25,000 today. And these divisions have caused violence, chaos, oppression, abuse, suffering and death for 500 years.

Reformation Sunday is day of two realities. Of promise, hope and freedom, contrasted by division, conflict and oppression.

Today, as you notice the red paraments that adorn the chancel you may know that red is one of the 5 liturgical colours, but only used a handful of Sundays each year. Red is the colour we use to symbolize the Holy Spirit. The changing, transforming, reforming work of the holy spirit among us. Red is used on Pentecost when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples, red is used for the spirits call names in the ordination of clergy and today Red is for spirit moving in the reformation Reformation. 

And Red is also used to remember martyrs in the church. 

The red reminds us of this mixed experience of Reformation. A moment of change and hope and renewal. A moment of struggle, suffering and death. 

Our observance of Reformation speaks to our time. It speaks to great change we are undergoing from how we worship, gather and build community as a church, to our understanding and attitudes of race, racism and oppression, to the re-working of our social safety nets, to how we will care for a suffering climate. 

And it speaks to the suffering and struggle that is still ongoing. To those who are sick and dying during this pandemic, those who giving every ounce of strength to care for strangers and their community, in hospitals, schools, grocery stores and so many more places. To how this moment has exposed the vulnerability of poor who are both most affected by the virus and who are forced to work the front lines our society in order to make ends meet. 

Fittingly, Reformation Sunday is about all of these things and more. About the conflicting experiences of division, conflict and war that accompanied the Reformation, as well as the striving for justice, the proclamation of grace and mercy, the hope we have in God’s promises. 

God’s promises like we hear Jesus utter today, promises like, 

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”

And if there is anything to remember today it is that. 

Even as Canada and the world struggles with this pandemic while considering the opportunity for radical change. Even as Reformation Sunday demands that we recall hope and the struggle: the gospel proclamation of Martin Luther and the reformers, the bold declaration of grace through faith alone, that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and that this belief is important enough to stand up for contrasted with the division, conflict, violence and suffering caused by the reformation. Even as these realities of both 2020 and 1517 sit with us, they are ultimately still the second most important things today. 

Because even Reformation Sunday it is still about what each Sunday is about for Christians. 

Today is firstly about Christ. 

Today is about God and God’s mighty deeds among God’s people. Today is a reminder we simply cannot save ourselves on our own. 

Just as in today’s Gospel readings the Jews said that as descendants of Abraham they were slaves to no one (even though they had been slaves to the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and now Romans). Just as Martin Luther declared that he and we we were not slaves to law and freed by God’s grace (even though he was threatened by the Pope and others). Just as we try to declare ourselves slaves to no virus or pandemic restrictions (even though cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise)…

We are still slaves to all of those things. We still must mask and social distance. We are still declared unrighteous by the law. We are slaves to fear, fear for our safety, fear of losing more, fear for being forgotten by God. 

No matter what our leaders declare, no matter the bravery we display, the sacrifices we make, the peace we try to uphold. We simply cannot save ourselves. We simply cannot free ourselves. 

We are slaves to sin, slaves to suffering, slaves to death, and there is nothing we can do about it. 

But that is why today is ultimately about Christ. 

Today is about the promise that God gives to slaves. To those enslaved by sin, those enslaved by suffering, to those enslaved by death. Today, is about the promise that God gives to us. The promise that despite our condition, despite our slavery, that God is showing us mercy, God is giving us grace, God is making us free. Free in the son. 

And this promise of freedom comes to us first in baptism. In baptism where we drown and die to sin, and where we rise to new life in Christ. 

So it is fitting today, that of all the things that Reformation might have us consider, the good and that bad, the hopeful and depressing… that the most important truth is God’s promise given to us first in the waters of baptism. The promise we belong to God, and that God’ names and claims us as God’s children. That no matter what befalls us, plague or war, violence or hate, suffering or tribulation, that God’s promise for us will hold: 

That God is our Mighty Fortress
That God is our Refuge and Strength
That God is redemption from sin
That God is freedom found in Christ
That God is our God and we are God’s people. 

And this promise is a powerful act of defiance against fear and violence, against oppression and powerlessness for us to proclaim this gospel truth today. That this gospel proclamation, that this reminder of what is central in our chaotic world, that our worshiping together in faith is an act of hope. That God is passing on through us, through the Body of Christ, this hope and this promise of grace to the world. 

Even while we are slaves to sin, to suffering and most of all to death, we pass on our hope for the future. A future promised by God in the midst of slavery. A future given by grace and mercy, even though we are dead. A future found with New Life in Christ.