15 May 2022

"Who are we to stand in God's way?" (sermon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

Sunday May 15, 2022 – 5th Sunday of Easter

Scripture:  Acts 11:1-18

 

 

One of the things that I’ve noticed happening this spring is that we are starting to eat together again.  It’s a cautious change – I know that Session was disappointed when we realized that we weren’t going to feel safe enough to have our Maundy Thursday meal this year – but several times in the past month I’ve shared a meal with people.

 

Eating together – breaking bread together – it’s important.  It is one of the reasons why we have continued to celebrate communion together through this pandemic, even when we were gathering virtually.  The communion meal builds community; and I think that every time we share a meal with someone, we are building relationship, we are building community.  It’s not a coincidence that the origin of the word “companion” has to do with sharing bread.

 

And Peter’s dream that he is telling us about – it is all about sharing meals.

 

Peter was Jewish, as was Jesus, and as were all of the first disciples.  They kept the laws that we can read in Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy.  And these laws include a lot of rules about what could be eaten and what couldn’t be eaten – the regulations about kosher eating that observant Jewish people still keep today.  Animals have to be killed in a certain way; and even when properly butchered, only some animals are permitted as food – pork and lobster being among the forbidden foods.  Dairy and meat are not to be consumed together.  And the list goes on.

 

The other piece of background to today’s story is that it wasn’t just the disciples who were Jewish – the whole early church was Jewish.  The church sprang out of the synagogue.  The early church was more like a movement than an institution – the church members would have kept the Sabbath on the 7th day, on Saturday; and then on the 8th day, Sunday, celebrated the resurrection of Jesus.

 

And yet the Holy Spirit was moving, growing the church, and at the point of todays story, some Gentiles, some non-Jewish people, had heard about Jesus and heard about the church, and they invited Peter to come and stay with them so that they could hear him teach and preach about Jesus.

 

Now Peter is faced with a dilemma here – does he go to share the good news about Jesus with this non-Jewish community?  Does he break bread with them, knowing that they don’t keep the kosher dietary rules?

 

And going one step deeper, this brings us to one of the controversies of this very early church:  does a Gentile who wants to join this movement of Jesus followers have to become Jewish – be circumcised and follow all of the law – in order to do so?  Peter, one of the people who had devoted his life to following the Rabbi Jesus would probably have said yes.

 

But in our story today, God intervenes.  Peter has a dream where a sheet drops down from heaven, the four corners lifted by some heavenly force, and the sheet is filled with all sorts of animals – animals that Peter would have considered clean or acceptable to be eaten, alongside animals that he would have considered to be unclean, or unacceptable to be eaten.  Three times a voice commands Peter to kill and eat; three times Peter protests, saying that he has never eaten an unclean animal; three times the voice replies, “What God has made clean, you must not call unclean.”

 

And with this dream, Peter’s decision about whether or not to go to the house of Cornelius, the Gentile, is made clear.  God’s love can break down barriers that we put in place.  God’s love is for everyone.

 

And Peter goes and he preaches, and as he is speaking, Cornelius and his household are filled with the Holy Spirit and Peter baptizes them.

 

And then we come to the part of the story that _____ shared with us today.  Peter, having had this experience of a dream, then preaching to Cornelius and his household and witnessing the power of the Holy Spirit – he then has to go back to Jerusalem and report to the rest of the church about what has happened.  He has to help them reach the same point of understanding as he has reached – he has to convince them that the Holy Spirit is working in Gentile followers of Jesus as well as in Jewish followers of Jesus.  He has to expand their understanding of God’s love and God’s inclusiveness in the same way as his own understanding has been stretched.

 

I love one of the last lines in the reading.  Peter tells the church in Jerusalem, “Who am I to stand in God’s way?”

 

When God is moving in the world, who are we to stand in God’s way?

 

Reading this story, my mind goes to the Affirming journey that Two Rivers has been on for the past 6 years.  This has been a journey of having our understanding of God’s love stretched wider – of breaking down the barriers that determine who is in and who is out.

 

Most of you are already familiar with these words, but I want to read the Two Rivers Pastoral Charge Inclusivity Statement:

“We, the people of Two Rivers Pastoral Charge, publicly declare our commitment to create a community that will celebrate the blessings of and the support of one another in our diverse life experiences; a community where all people are welcome regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, differing abilities, ethnic background, life experiences, generational culture, economic circumstances, and others we have yet to discern.

 

As such, we will continually seek to identify and dismantle barriers that hinder the participation and inclusion of marginalized groups and individuals.

 

All persons are welcome to take part in every aspect of church life, including membership, leadership, celebrating life passages, and marriage.

 

We celebrate the richness that diversity brings to our church, even as it challenges us. We pray for God's Spirit to guide us as we work for reconciliation and justice for all persons in both church and society.”

 

Being Affirming is a journey, not a destination.  It’s not something that we did back in 2017 – it is something that is an ongoing commitment to being willing to have our barriers broken down in the way that Peter’s barriers were broken down in our story today.  It isn’t easy – as our statement reads, “we celebrate the richness that diversity brings to our church even as it challenges us.”  There is a tension between the celebration and the challenge.

 

And another thing that I love about this inclusivity statement is that it is open-ended.  We explicitly name the diversity that we celebrate, but the list ends with, “and others we have yet to discern.”  Being Affirming is a journey and not a destination.

 

And so moving back to the question of food and breaking bread together… who would you be uncomfortable breaking bread together with?  Where is your current barrier for sharing a meal?

 

Would you be comfortable sharing a meal with someone of a different religion or political leanings?  Would you be comfortable sharing a meal with someone on the other side of the vaccine debate?  Would you be comfortable sharing a meal with a politician who has enacted legislation that you disagree with?  Moving to more challenging territory, would you be comfortable inviting someone who is homeless into your house to share a meal?  Would you be comfortable sharing a meal with a convict?  And if your answer to that one is, “it depends on the crime” then you may have found your limit.

 

God is always pushing us beyond our comfort zone, pushing us into a broader understanding of love and acceptance.  For God’s love isn’t just for the in-crowd.  God’s love truly is for everyone; and who are we to get in God’s way?



“Rainbow Flag”

Photo by Richard Datchler on Flickr

Used with permission.

8 May 2022

"Grief, Celebration, Reality TV, and What It Is to Be the Church" (sermon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

Sunday May 8, 2022 – 4th Sunday of Easter

Scripture Reading – Acts 9:36-43

 

 

I need to begin by addressing the elephant in the room with this reading.  Tabitha, also named Dorcas, was raised from the dead, was returned to life, when the apostle Peter prayed over her.  And while it is a beautiful story about a woman who was a leader in her community, when I read this story, the first question that pops into my mind is:  why was Peter’s prayer answered here, when so many other prayers through time and across space go unanswered?

 

I don’t know if you have ever prayed for someone you love to be brought back to life after they had died.  It is heart wrenching.  In the midst of grief, you pray for all of the what-ifs.  God, please make it yesterday so I can stop them from going out today.  If only I could go back 6 months or even a week and get them to a doctor sooner.  If only I had come home an hour earlier.  God, please bring them back to life so that I can tell them one more time how much I love them.

 

And yet in my experience, these prayers go unanswered.  So why are Peter’s prayers answered in this story?  Telling me that it was because of his deep faith – that Tabitha was raised back to life because Peter trusted that God would do just that – this isn’t a helpful interpretation.  Because then what am I supposed to take away from this story, other than telling me that I’m not Peter, which I already know?

 

I wish that I had an easy answer for why Peter’s prayer for Tabitha was answered when so many similar prayers aren’t.  I wish that I could stand up here today and preach a sermon on 5 easy steps to raise someone from the dead.  But I can’t do that.  I can’t do that because I don’t know why Peter’s prayer was answered that day.

 

All that I can say about this miracle is that Tabitha’s time hadn’t come yet.  Today wasn’t her day to die, and so she came back to life.  She has more years ahead of her – years when she will serve and love and be loved – and when her time comes her body is going to die, and all of the prayers in the world won’t be able to reverse that death.  But that time isn’t yet.

 

So if I can’t stand here and preach about how to raise people from the dead, or why Peter’s prayer that day worked, then where is the good news in this story?

 

To me, I see the good news in this story coming in the form of community, in this very early church.

 

The book of Acts is set in the first few years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, after he had been raised up to heaven.  The church was trying to figure out how to be the Body of Christ – how to carry on Jesus’s work now that Jesus was no longer with them.  Even thought they were still very much a minority in the wider world, this community of Jesus-followers was growing quickly as people were drawn to Jesus’s message of loving God and loving one another, as they were drawn to his message of radical love and acceptance and equality, as they were drawn to a community where everyone shared what they had so that no one went without.

 

One of the leaders in this community was Tabitha, and we’re told that she was devoted to good works and acts of charity.  She didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk.  And she was beloved.  When she died, the people of the church and the people she served came together to mourn together and to celebrate the work that she had done.  I love that the author includes the detail about how they wanted to show off Tabitha’s handiwork to Peter – the clothes that she had made, presumably to go to people who didn’t have any.

 

And then when Tabitha is brought back to life, Peter calls in the saints and the widows – again, the other church members and the people that Tabitha served – so that they could celebrate together now that Tabitha was with them again.

 

And to me, this story of community is at the heart of who we are as the church – people who come together to grieve together, to celebrate together, to support one another as we try to follow the path that Jesus shows us – people who can come together to be authentically human together, with everything that that entails.

 

Here at Two Rivers Pastoral Charge, we know too well what it is to lose beloved friends, neighbours, family members, siblings in Christ; and yet we are able to come together in-person and online to grieve together and to celebrate their lives, just as Tabitha’s community did.  And when we have things to celebrate – the baptism of babies, weddings, new neighbours – we come together to celebrate those things too.  And when we do these things – especially when we do these things together – we are being fully human, the creatures that God created us to be.

 

I have to confess that my current television binge watching is a program called Alone – it is a reality TV series where each season 10 competitors are dropped off alone on the shore of northern Vancouver Island, miles apart from each other.  There is no camera crew so each competitor is responsible for filming themselves, along with finding food and clean water and safe water… as well as keeping themselves safe from the wildlife.  The person who lasts the longest out there is the winner.  And while the survival skills are interesting to watch, to me the more interesting part of the show is the mental game.  You see the competitors struggling with fear, with loneliness, and then for the competitors who are able to stick it out long enough to get a decent living site established, they then struggle with a sense of purpose.

 

And while some competitors press the “Come-And-Get-Me” button on their satellite phone because they are afraid of forest or the animals, and some competitors press the button because they aren’t able to get enough food to eat, and some competitors have to be removed for medical reasons like an injury or dehydration or starvation, the most common reason for a competitor to leave the show is loneliness.  They miss their family.  They miss being around people.  They miss hugs.

 

Watching this program in a time of Covid adds an extra layer of poignancy, since I think that many of us have experienced some of this loneliness over the past two years.

 

Because we aren’t created to be alone.  We are created to be in community with one another.  We are created to celebrate together and laugh together and grieve together and be human together on this journey through life.  We are created in the image of God, and the God in whose image we are created is community – the Trinity – the Three-in-One and the One-in-Three.

 

And so while there is good news in Tabitha’s story of being brought back to life after she died, I see the even better news in this story as the story of a community, the story of a church, the story of a gathering of Jesus followers.  For when we can grieve together and support one another in our grief, the grief is lessened; and when we can celebrate together, our celebration is increased.  And together, we can find ways to love and serve the world around us, just as Tabitha and her community did.  And so I thank God, from the very bottom of my heart, for the gift of the church.  Amen.

 

 

The Community Mourning Tabitha

Stained Glass Window from Southwark Cathedral

Image:  Public Domain


1 May 2022

"Expanding Our Love" (sermon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

May 1, 2022 - 3rd Sunday of Easter

Scripture:  Acts 9:1-20

 

 

Have you ever had a Road to Damascus experience?  A time when God dramatically intervened in your life and changed your path from this way to that way?

 

This is one of the most dramatic stories of transformation in the whole bible.  Saul was one of the people who were persecuting the very earliest church.  This story, along with all of the book of Acts, is set in the first years after Jesus’s resurrection.  Jesus had died and three days later he rose from the dead; then 40 days after that he ascended into heaven.  And then his disciples – they were gifted with the Holy Spirit and they were able to preach and teach Jesus’s message, and the church was growing in leaps and bounds in those early years.  This is the story of the Book of Acts.

 

But the church, even though it was growing rapidly, was still a minority in the land.  They didn’t have any institutional power.  They weren’t in favour with Rome.  They were an off-shoot of Judaism – a minority religion on the fringes of Empire.  But people were drawn to the message that the early church proclaimed – a message where everyone is welcome, where everyone is accepted, where everyone is equal in Christ; a message that you are loved and you are called to love others; and a community that shared all of their possessions so that no one went without.

 

People were so attracted to this message, that the established groups felt threatened.  People like Saul were worried that this new and radical movement was going to take over from the status quo, from the established faith.  And so Saul and others were trying to get rid of this movement.  Saul and others were making it very difficult for the Jesus-followers to gather, and had even resorted to murder when Stephen, one of the deacons in the church, was stoned to death for proclaiming this new way of being in the world.

 

And our story this week begins with Saul on the road to Damascus – on the road from Jerusalem heading north to Damascus carrying papers that would allow him to arrest anyone who was following the way of Jesus.  But as he was traveling along, a blinding light engulfed him, literally blinding him, and he heard Jesus saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  When Saul is persecuting the church, he is persecuting the body of Christ.  But Saul, who never met Jesus when he was alive, doesn’t recognize the voice and he cries out “Who are you, Lord?”  He hears a reply, “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting” and he receives instructions to finish his journey and wait there for further instructions.  And for 3 days Saul sat there, not able to see, not able to eat, not able to drink.

 

But by the end of the story, Saul has been transformed.  By the end of the story, Saul is no longer persecuting the church, but instead he has regained his sight, he has been baptized and he is now travelling around proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen.

 

But I would suggest that there is a second, equally dramatic, transformation happening in the story that we heard.

 

Ananias was one of the leaders in this very early church – one of the leaders in the group of people who were being persecuted and murdered by Saul and others.  This way of living that he knows as The Way is in a precarious situation, at risk of not surviving to the next generation.

 

Then one night Ananias was awakened by the voice of Jesus calling out to him.  Unlike Saul, Ananias immediately recognizes the voice and replies, “Here I am, Lord.”

 

Can you imagine the shock that Ananias must have felt when Jesus told him to go and find Saul, the one who was causing so much pain and heartache, and to lay hands on him and heal him?

 

If I had been in Ananias’s place, I suspect that my first reaction would have been – “you want me to do what? You really want me to go and heal the person who is causing so much suffering?  I would rather celebrate the fact that he isn’t going to be able to cause us harm!”  Ananias puts it slightly more eloquently than I would:  “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority to bind and arrest all who invoke your name.”

 

But Jesus, the Risen Christ, persists.  He tells Ananias that he has a plan for Saul, that Saul is going to change, and he is going to carry the good news into the world.

 

And here is our second moment of transformation in this story – Ananias goes.  He goes to the place where his sworn enemy, the sworn enemy of the whole church, is staying; and he lays hands on Saul, and prays for Saul’s healing, and that Saul might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

 

I’m fascinated by this story of double-transformation – Saul from someone persecuting the church and murdering its members into someone carrying the Good News of Jesus into the world; and Ananias from someone who was afraid of Saul and celebrating his affliction into someone who was able to love and heal his enemy.

 

Earlier this spring, we wrestled with Jesus’s teaching that we are to love not just the people who love us back but we are to love our enemies as well.  It’s a challenging commandment.  It is easy to love the people who love us back.  It is easy to love the people who think like us, who act like us, who pray like us.  It is harder to love people who think and pray and act differently than we do.  And it is almost impossible to love our enemies; to want the best for people who don’t want the best for us.  Yet this is what Jesus tells us that we are to do.  Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

 

We wrestled with this teaching back at the end of February, and now the bible gives us a story of two people who were able to do just that; a story of two people whose lives were transformed so that they could love more fully.  Saul’s love expanded to include Jesus and the whole church; Ananias’s love expanded to include Saul, the persecutor.

 

I started by asking if you have ever had a Road to Damascus experience.  Most of us don’t have a moment of being blinded by a flash of light from heaven, and when we regain our sight we are on a different path than the one we had been on.  But for many of us, when we follow the way of Jesus, when our hearts are open to being transformed by the Holy Spirit, our lives undergo transformation from one way of being to another.

 

One of my professors at AST. Rev. Dr. Sally Shaw, compared the transformation of our lives to the transformation that stones undergo.  You can re-shape a stone by taking a chisel and a hammer to it, and cracking it open – this might be comparable to what happened to Saul and to Ananias.  But you can also re-shape a stone by putting it into the ocean and letting the waves and the sand gradually smooth out and polish and round the surface of the stone.  That might be comparable to the process that more of us experience.

 

But we are being transformed and shaped by the Holy Spirit, even if our story is less dramatic than Saul’s or Ananias’s.  The Holy Spirit is always stretching our hearts open so that we can love more fully, more broadly, more expansively than we did before.

 

And so the question that I invite you to ponder this week is, how is the Holy Spirit calling you to love more fully?  As we are being transformed more and more into the Body of Christ, who are we being called to love; and how are we being called to show that love?

 

And may the Holy Spirit guide us and lead us to that place.  Amen.

 

 

Stones Shaped by the Ocean

(Lawrencetown Beach)

 

17 April 2022

"Easter Gets the Last Word" (sermon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

Sunday April 17, 2022 – Easter Sunday

Scripture:  Luke 24:1-12

 

 

That morning is so clear in my mind – my memories of that day are so vivid.

 

When I left the house, it was still dark.  It was cold, in those hours before the dawn, and I had wrapped myself in my warmest cloak but still the cold managed to seep in.

 

As I hurried through the streets, the birds might have been singing to greet the dawn, but I don’t remember them.  The shriek of grief was too loud in my head to be able to hear anything else.

 

Only two days ago, I had seen my beloved nailed to a cross and left there to die, executed by the Empire for daring to proclaim a different way of being.  I had wanted to turn away, but I couldn’t let myself do that.  I stayed there, through the endless hours, until I saw him take his final breath.  And then I watched the men take his lifeless body off the cross, and I followed them and saw them put it in a grave.

 

And then it was Sabbath.  For a full day I couldn’t do anything except sit in my home and wait.

 

But then.  But then that morning I was finally able to do something.  I had gathered up the herbs and spices that were needed to prepare the body of my beloved for the grave – this was one last thing that I could do for him.

 

As I hurried through those quiet streets, I met up with some of the other women who had stood vigil with me two days before.  We wanted to go and tend his body and say our final goodbyes.

 

I don’t remember us saying anything to one another as we moved through the streets and towards the place of the tombs.  In our grief, there was nothing left to say.

 

When we got to the place where we had seen his body placed, we were surprised to see that the grave was open.  The stone that had been placed in front of it to seal the entrance had been rolled back.  I don’t know who could have done it – it would take the strength of more than one person to move such a large stone uphill and away from the entrance – tombs are designed to be closed rather than to be opened.

 

A shiver of worry pierced the numbness I had been feeling.  I didn’t know what could have happened.  And when we looked inside, there was no body to be seen – only a pile of cloths – the cloths that had wrapped his body – they were lying where his body had been.  The worry became fear.  What could have happened?

 

And then, just as the sun was rising above the horizon, dazzling our eyes, there were two men there.  I don’t know where they came from… I can’t even tell you what they looked like… you know how it is when you are looking into the sun.  My fear became terror.  Had they been the ones to move the body of my beloved?  What were they going to do to us?

 

I can’t tell you what they looked like, but I remember what they said.  They said, “Don’t be afraid.”  They said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here, but he has risen!”

 

And then, I can’t tell you how it happened, but all of the grief and the fear fell away.  Where the grief and fear had been, I was able to dare to feel hope.

 

The men continued to speak, and reminded us what my beloved had taught us.  They reminded us that he had said that on the third day he would rise from the dead.  They told us that we were going to see our beloved again.

 

The hope that had been planted in me began to turn into joy.  I had seen my beloved die, but the love of God-whose-name-is-Holy is stronger than even death, and now the grave is empty and he is risen!

 

We didn’t linger there at the grave, the other women and I.  We rushed back into the city to go and tell the other disciples.  We couldn’t wait to share the good news with them!

 

And ever since that day, whenever I am sad, whenever grief overwhelms me, whenever I am afraid or anxious about what is going to happen – I remember that morning.  I remember how grief and fear don’t last forever.  I remember that I can hold on to hope, because I know that love and joy are always waiting for me on the other side of fear and grief.  There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, even if we can’t see it yet.  Even when they don’t make any sense at all in the present moment, love, hope, and joy will always have the final word!

 

 

“Easter, Empty Tomb” by JESUS MAFA

Used with permission

10 April 2022

"Not Alone... But Together" (sermoon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

April 10, 2022 – Palm Sunday

Scripture:  Luke 19:28-40

 

I have to confess that this whole pandemic has done funny things to how I view the world.  I was watching a movie this week – and to be clear, it was a movie both set and filmed before the Covid-19 pandemic – and there was a scene at a rock concert.  A stadium packed with people, shoulder to shoulder, and not a mask in sight.  Everyone singing along with the musicians, and body-surfing over the crowd.  And after two years of physical distancing and masks, it made me slightly uncomfortable to watch, even though with my head I know that all of this was normal before March 2020.

 

But I also know that even before March 2020, not everyone was comfortable in a big crowd like that.  I know for me, personally, I’m not a fan of crowds.  Being at a parade or in a crowded room or somewhere like a fair or a concert – it’s not my favourite place to be.  It must be the introvert in me.  I get easily overwhelmed by the noise and all the people and the noise.

 

And so I can only imagine what it must have been like as Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem that day.  There were crowds of people all around.  Luke doesn’t mention palm branches, but instead says that the crowd was throwing their cloaks on the ground in front of Jesus, riding on his colt.  They are shouting – the noise must have been overwhelming.

 

Jesus is riding a colt that had never been ridden before – this would be the opposite of a trained warhorse – I heard someone suggest that it was probably more along the lines of a rodeo bronc, trying to shake this unaccustomed rider off it’s back.  So this isn’t a slow and stately procession into the city – there’s an element of wildness and unpredictability.

 

And behind this wildness, there is also an air of tension.  Jerusalem, at that time, was a city under occupation.  The Roman Empire was in charge, and they were enforcing their rule through fear and violence.  There were constant rumblings of dissent and revolution, and everyone was likely a bit on edge even before this parade made its way into town.

 

And Jesus – he himself had caught the attention of the authorities, for proclaiming a new way of being in the world, for showing an alternate reality to the reality in front of the people.  A way of peace and love and the end of oppression.  But of course the end of oppression would require an end to the occupation, and those in charge didn’t want that to happen.

 

By the time Luke wrote down the events of this day, 50 years later, give-or-take, the people of Jerusalem had revolted against Rome, and the city, including the temple had been destroyed.

 

And so I honestly don’t know how I would have felt, if I had been a part of that first Palm Sunday parade.  I don’t think that I would have been 100% joyful and relaxed.  I suspect that I might have felt a bit on edge (or maybe a lot on edge), and yet I might also have felt compelled to be there to witness the theatre of it all, complete with a rodeo colt and people paving the way with their cloaks.

 

And my mind keeps coming back to the crowds – all those people escorting Jesus into Jerusalem that day.  One person does not a crowd make.  Here we have a multitude of people coming together, spreading their cloaks on the road and shouting praises to Jesus.  And Jesus says that even if the people were silent, the very stones would cry out.  All of creation is part of the crowd that is singing God’s praise as the parade makes its way into Jerusalem.  This crowd extends to include everything that we can see and everything that we can’t see.  When we join our voices together to sing God’s praise, the whole community of creation is singing with us.

 

And that is true for everything that we do as a church.  This Lent we’ve been talking about gardening – looking at what seeds we want to plant in our lives, looking at what we need to do to nurture these seeds along, asking if there is any pruning or weeding that we need to do in our lives so that these seeds can flourish.  And eventually it comes time to harvest.

 

And when we all harvest the seeds that we have been nurturing, just think of the impact we could make in the world.  We nurture our souls for the benefit that it brings to us – for the peace and the joy and the love we can experience – but we also nurture our souls so that we are able to then love and serve the world.

 

And if the whole church – not just us but the universal church of every time and every place – if the whole church was able to do this, can you imagine what the world would be like?  Can you imagine a world where Jesus’s message of loving one another, neighbour and enemy alike, was a reality?  Can you imagine a world where oppression is no more, and where everyone is focused on building one another up rather than pulling each other down?  Can you imagine a world where the Prince of Peace reigns in everyone’s heart, and also in every relationship, big and small?

 

This is the new way of being that we are cheering on as we accompany Jesus into Jerusalem today.  This is the vision for the world that compels us to be a part of this crowd, despite the tension and the danger.  This is the new way of being that we, the crowd, accompanied by all of creation are called to usher into being.  This is why the Holy Spirit is planting these seeds in our lives and nurturing them to the harvest – so that we can share the fruit that our souls can produce to feed the world.

 

Lent can be an inward-looking season, but in the end, we aren’t the only ones to reap the benefit of this season.  For the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in all of us – the fruit of generosity, of love, of peace, of kindness, or joy – all of this fruit is given to us so that we can share with the world!

 

And so as we join this Palm Sunday Parade… as we begin this journey of Holy Week where the tensions will escalate until we reach the cross… let us hold fast to this vision of a world transformed – a world transformed not just for you and for me but for all of creation.  And let us trust that the Holy Spirit who has called us to join in this parade today is working in us and in the world so that this vision will become the new reality.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

 

“Palm Sunday: Even the Stones”

by Cara B. Hochhalter

Used with permission.


3 April 2022

"Anointed" (Sermon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

April 3, 2022 – 5th Sunday of Lent

Scripture Reading:  John 12:1-8

 

 

I want to set the scene for this week’s reading.  In the chapter before this one, Jesus was in Bethany, summoned there because his beloved friend Lazarus had died.  Jesus weeps at the death of his friend, he offers consolation to Lazarus’s sisters, Martha and Mary, and then he raises Lazarus back to life.

 

In the passage that we read today, Jesus is back in Bethany, at the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, and this time Mary takes a pound of expensive perfume – perfume that cost her the equivalent of a year’s salary – and she pours this perfume on Jesus feet and wipes his feet with her hair.

 

Immediately after today’s story, Jesus is going to enter Jerusalem riding a donkey, accompanied by his disciples and a parade of people waving palm branches; and from there the events of Holy Week are going to unfold.

 

And a few days later, Jesus is going to bend over the feet of his disciples, and wash them from a basin of water, and dry their feet with a towel.

 

When I looked at this story this week – a story that is so familiar to me – what struck me this time around was having these two stories of foot washing so close to one another.  In one chapter, we have Jesus’s feet being washed and dried by his beloved friend, Mary; and in the very next chapter we have Jesus washing the feet of his beloved friends.  They are both stories of deep intimacy.  Exposing our feet to another person can make us feel uncomfortable or vulnerable.  And in this section of John’s gospel, we see Jesus both receiving and giving this vulnerable sort of love.

 

Today’s story, along with intimacy and vulnerability, it also speaks to our senses.  The sense of touch, as Mary anoints and wipes Jesus’s feet.  And especially the sense of smell, as the aroma of the nard, the aroma of the perfume would have filled the room, filled the house, filled the noses of everyone who was there that day.

 

And as Jesus moves through the events of Holy Week, the scent of this perfume would have accompanied him.  As he traveled in to Jerusalem, with each step, with each sway of his robes, the scent of Mary’s perfume would have risen up to meet his nose.  As he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal, and as he bent over to wash their feet, the scent of Mary’s perfume would have filled that room.  As he was arrested and placed on trial, I wonder if Pilate and the soldiers could smell the remnants of the perfume.  As he hung on the cross, I wonder if the wind carried a whiff of this perfume to Jesus’s nose, and when he smelled it, did Jesus remember Mary’s extravagant gift, and did he remember that he was loved?  And when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus carried Jesus’s body to the tomb, were they able to smell this perfume that still lingered on his body?

 

The word “Christ” in Greek, or “Messiah” in Hebrew means “The Anointed One,” and with today’s reading, Jesus has been anointed. He has had perfumed oil poured over his body.

Anointing is used as a sign of hospitality – the one who is anointed is deeply welcomed in this space.

 

Anointing is used to indicate divine presence – God is with the one who is anointed.

 

Anointing is used for healing – as medicine.

 

Anointing us used to set a person apart for God – kings and queens are often anointed at their coronation; and in the same way, many traditions anoint people with perfumed oil at their baptism.

 

Anointing is also used to prepare the body of the dead for the grave.

 

And with the story that we read today, Jesus is now anointed.  He is now the Christ, the Messiah.  He has been set apart by his anointing, he has been anointed for healing, and his body has been prepared for the tomb.

 

And for we who are the church – we are the body of Christ.  And when we look at today’s story alongside the story in the next chapter where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, we can see that there is a time for us to serve others, but there is also a time to allow ourselves to be served.  In the church, we often find it easy to serve other people, but many of us, myself included, find it difficult to let others tend to our needs.

 

And so I invite you now to think of the places in your life that need anointing.  If it is easier for you to visualize them with your eyes closed, I invite you to close your eyes now.

 

Is there any part of your physical body in need of healing?

 

Is there any part of your spiritual self in need of healing?

 

Is there a relationship in your life that is broken?

 

Is there a gift or a talent that you have that you long to be anointed, that you long to be set apart or dedicated for God?

 

Are you carrying around a loss that you haven’t been able to let go of, something that you need to anoint for the grave so that you are able to let it go?

 

Where do you need anointing today?

 

And now I invite you to visualize yourself there in the room with Jesus, Mary, Martha, Lazarus, and the other disciples.  It’s evening, so it’s dark in here, but the lamps are flickering, giving a soft glow to the room.

 

See Mary open her jar of precious, abundant perfume.

 

Can you smell the fragrance of the perfume filling the air?  It smells more beautiful that anything you have smelt before.

 

Now Mary is coming over to you.  She is pouring her beautifully-scented oil over you, pouring it over the part of you that is in need of anointing.  Can you feel the warm oil running over you?  Can you feel the beautiful aroma filling your nose?

 

Can you feel the anointing entering your very being – the healing, the consecration, the preparation, the divine presence?

 

And now Mary has uncovered her long hair, and she using it to wipe away the excess oil.  Sense her closeness to you.  Feel the vulnerability of her love.  Rest in the love and care that she is offering to you.  In this moment, know that you are safe and loved.

 

And as you prepare to leave the room, breathe in the smell of the perfume.  Know that you will carry this scent with you in the days ahead.  Know that the love and security and healing will go with you.  Know that you are loved.

 

See the door to the room opening to the outside.  Feel the fresh cool air rush in.  If there is anything that you need to leave behind in this room, know that you are able to leave it here.  Know that this room is a safe place to leave behind any burdens that you have been carrying.  Feel yourself moving towards that open door.

 

If your eyes were closed, I invite you to open them now.  Bring yourself back into this time and this place.

 

And may the healing, the peace, the love go with you, today and always.  Amen.

 

 

“Anointed” – by Lauren Wright Pittman

Used with Permission