12 June 2022

"Woman Wisdom" (Sermon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

Sunday June 12, 2022 – Trinity Sunday

Scripture:  Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

 

 

Who is the wisest person you know?  Is there someone in your life, someone you have met, even someone you have heard of who embodies wisdom?

 

Thinking about wisdom, it is interesting to ponder the difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Someone with a lot of knowledge knows a lot of things.  They may be an expert in a particular field, or they may know a lot about a wide variety of things.  But someone who is wise is able to take that knowledge and combine it with lived experience and a dash of common sense, and then apply it in order to be able to live well.

 

Thinking about the movies, a character like Yoda is wise, whereas the mad scientist archetype generally has knowledge but not wisdom – think of someone like Dr. Frankenstein who had the knowledge to be able to create a human, but he lacked the wisdom to realize that this was a very bad idea.  Or Doc from the Back to the Future movies who had enough knowledge to be able to travel through time, but who didn’t have the wisdom to keep him from making all sorts of silly mistakes along the way.  In both of these examples, the mad scientist’s lack of wisdom is necessary to push the plot forward.  Wise characters generally don’t make good main characters since they tend not to have very exciting plot lines!

 

Wisdom in the bible is all about living a good life – living well with God and living well with your neighbours.  Wisdom in the bible can be shared in the hopes of saving another person from the sometimes painful process of lived experience that can result in wisdom.

 

And wisdom in the bible is personified.  She doesn’t have a name, though because the Greek word for wisdom is “sophia” she is sometimes called Sophia.  Woman Wisdom in the book of Proverbs isn’t some sweet demure submissive woman sitting at home tending the fire and raising her children.  No – Woman Wisdom is out in the streets, at the crossroads, at the gates of the town, shouting to anyone who will listen to her.  She cries out, trying to convince people to follow her voice, persuading them that wisdom is a better path to follow than folly.  It may be more exciting in the short term to follow folly, but in the long term, a life of wisdom, of living well with God and living well with neighbour – that is the good path to follow.

 

And who is this Woman Wisdom?  She was the first piece of creation, created by God before any other thing.  She was with God when God began to create the heavens and the earth.  She witnessed the formation of the mountains and the skies and the oceans.  She worked alongside God as a master worker, bringing creation in to being.

 

As we talked about earlier, today is Trinity Sunday, the day when we especially celebrate God as Trinity – Three-in-One and One-in-Three.  And so I have to ask the question, how does Woman Wisdom fit in to the Trinity?

 

But unfortunately I don’t have a good answer to that.  I’ve got lots of ideas, but no solid answers.

 

Woman Wisdom was with God before any other created thing, before God began to create the heavens and the earth.  Before the beginning, the Holy Spirit moved, hovered, danced over the waters.

 

Woman Wisdom worked alongside God as together they created the heavens and the earth.  God spoke, and by God’s Word all of creation came in to being; God’s Word who is the Christ.

 

And so is Woman Wisdom the same as Christ, the second person of the Trinity?  Or is Woman Wisdom the same as the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity?

 

And yet Woman Wisdom tells us that she was the first thing that God created, while the theology of the Trinity tells us that all three persons of the Trinity are God and therefore not created.

 

The more I think about it, the more muddled my brain becomes.

 

And yet even as my brain feels muddled, I wonder if then I am maybe closer to the mystery of the Trinity than I am at any other time.  For the Trinity is mystery – Holy Mystery that is to be contemplated rather than understood.  Which means that the more that I think that I understand the Trinity, the further I probably am from God!

 

So Woman Wisdom, even if she isn’t God, is very closely connected with God.  She delights in God and she delights in all that God has created.

 

And when we are living our lives with wisdom – when we are living a good life – then we are delighting in God and we are delighting in all that God has created.  We are delighting in the mountains and the rivers and the ocean.  We are delighting in the rocks and the birds and the trees.  We are delighting with every breath that we take.  We are delighting when the sun is shining on our faces, and when the rain falls on our heads, and even when we are out shovelling the snow that has fallen.  We are delighting in each and every human being we meet, recognizing that every person on this earth is created in the image of their Creator.  When we are living with wisdom, we take delight in all that God has created, just as Woman Wisdom does.

 

And part of delighting in creation has to be living with respect in creation – honouring each and every member of the community of creation, as all of us have been created by a loving God.

 

And so rather than trying to puzzle out who Woman Wisdom is, rather than trying to puzzle out how Woman Wisdom fits into the Trinity, instead I think that the better response might be to live with wisdom.  Rather than thinking about wisdom, isn’t it better to do wisdom, to live wisely?!  And may our ears be open to hear the voice of Woman Wisdom so that we can delight in God and rejoice in all of God’s creation each and every day.  Amen.

 

 


Detail from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam

Note the female figure under the arm of God

Woman Wisdom was with God as God created

Image Used with Permission


6 June 2022

"We Can't Go Back" (Pentecost Sermon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

Sunday June 5, 2022 – Pentecost

Scripture Reading:  Acts 2:1-21

 

 

I invite you to imagine yourself into the shoes of those disciples who were there that first Pentecost.  If we look back to the chapter before the one that we heard today, we’ll see that there were about 120 of them – all of them followers of Jesus.  Some of them are named there – we have Peter and James and John and Andrew and Philip and Thomas.  We’re told that Jesus’s mother Mary was among their number too, as well as Jesus’s brothers.  And then there were many more whose names we aren’t told.

 

All of them had been with Jesus when he was alive.  They heard him speak, they travelled with him, they watched him heal people, they watched him walk on water and calm the storm.  And then 7 weeks ago – 52 days ago, to be precise – they had watched Jesus be nailed to a cross, and they watched him take his final breath.  Everything that Jesus had done on earth had come to an end.  The disciples were left alone without their teacher, their leader, their friend.

 

But then two days later, they were witnesses to the empty grave.    Some of them encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and recognized him when he took, blessed, broke and gave the bread to them.  Others met him when he appeared behind their closed and locked door in Jerusalem, and he shared a meal of fish with them.

 

For 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus was with his disciples, but it was different than it had been before his death.  They didn’t travel around; Jesus didn’t speak to large crowds; there aren’t even any recorded healings or miracles that he performed in this period of time.

 

And then 10 days ago, Jesus told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem, and then, as they watched on, Jesus was carried up into heaven leaving the disciples alone again for the second time.

 

I can only imaging what those 10 days must have been like for them.  I suspect that time dragged by very slowly – you know that feeling when you’ve been told that something is going to happen, but you don’t know exactly what is going to happen or when it is going to happen.  Time seems to move like molasses, and a sort of inertia sets in – you don’t want to start anything new, in case the think that you are waiting for begins.

 

And so for 10 days, these disciples hung out in Jerusalem, waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting.  And then the day of Pentecost arrived.  The word “Pentecost” comes from the word fifty – it is now fifty days after the Passover festival, and it is now the festival of Shavuot.  This is a celebration of receiving the Torah, what we know as the first five books of the bible.  And it is also a harvest festival, celebrating the first harvest of the year – the winter barley harvest.

 

And so just as Jesus’s disciples had gathered together to celebrate Passover just before Jesus was arrested, they are now gathered together 50 days later to celebrate Shavuot or Pentecost.

 

And then we heard about what unfolds – a rush of mighty wind blowing through the room, tongues of fire resting over each of the disciples, the ability to speak in different languages so that all of the pilgrims who had gathered to celebrate Shavuot could hear the message proclaimed.  The Holy Spirit made her presence known that day in Jerusalem.

 

I love the Pentecost story.  I love the energy of it, the mystery of it, the mingling of joy and fear that comes when we draw close to the Holy.  But I think that what I especially love about this story is what comes next.

 

Beginning at Pentecost, all of the disciples were equipped with what they needed to share Jesus’s message with the world – they were given courage, they were given the words to say, they were even able to be understood in different languages.  We are only at the very beginning of the book of Acts, and if we keep reading, we will see these same disciples going out and spreading Jesus’s message to every corner of the known world.  We will see the church growing and spreading like wildfire.  The full title of this book in the Bible is the Acts of the Apostles; but those of you who were with us on Facebook Live a couple of years ago as we read this book might remember that I suggested that a better title for the book might be the Acts of the Holy Spirit Working through the Apostles.

 

In the time after the day of Pentecost, the message of Jesus spread in a way that it wouldn’t have been able to spread when Jesus was still alive.  The disciples are never going to be able to go back to the way that it was when Jesus was traveling around teaching and healing; they aren’t even going to be able to go back to those weeks of intimacy with Jesus after he rose from the dead.  But what comes next is even bigger, is even more exciting than what came before.  God is always doing a new thing, and we see that in spades with this Pentecost story.

 

I also wonder if we might be at a Pentecost moment in the church right now.  Back in mid-March 2020, the way that we churched came to an abrupt halt.  We couldn’t gather together in-person.  We couldn’t sing together.  We couldn’t share meals together.  But in the past 27 months, the Holy Spirit has been working in and through us, inspiring us with creativity, and helping us to figure out how to be the church in new ways.

 

This week, I have been thinking about all of our new ways of churching in the past two years – parking lot coffee hours, and outdoor worship services, and our Mission and Service mural fundraisers, and our Romero House Gratitude challenges, and Webex and Zoom and Facebook Live, and I’m sure that I’m missing a bunch of other things too.

 

We’ve also said goodbye to members of our church and members of our community.  We all know how many funerals we’ve had in the past couple of years.  But at the same time, we have also been welcoming new people to our communities and to our churches.

 

We can never go back to the way that things were before, and it is OK to mourn what we have lost; but at the same time, I think that we also have to look forwards as a church.  What are we going to be able to do as a church – how are we going to be able to carry out God’s mission of loving the world – in ways that we wouldn’t have been able to do three years ago?

 

Because I do think that this might be a Pentecost moment.  The Holy Spirit is gifting us with creativity and newness.  We can’t go back to the way things were, but we can lean in to this newness and follow the Spirit wherever she is leading us next.  If we were to write our own book of Acts, what stories will be written down about how the Holy Spirit is working in the people of Two Rivers Pastoral Charge?

 

Because the Holy Spirit is working in us, and thanks be to God for this newness that is here!  Amen.

 

 

A Pentecost Blessing:

We are sent out from this worship,

            just as the early disciples were sent out from Pentecost,

not to keep the good news to ourselves

            but to share it with the world.

As you go from this place,

            know that the Holy Spirit is with you,

                        encouraging you,

                        equipping you,

                        comforting you,

                        guiding you,

and blowing you to newness.

And may the blessing of God,

            Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit,

                        be among us, and remain with us always.

Amen.

 

 

The church is not the building.

How is the Holy Spirit calling us to church

beyond these walls

in new and exciting ways?



29 May 2022

"Not the Easy Way" (sermon)

Two Rivers Pastoral Charge

May 29, 2022 (7th Sunday of Easter)

Scripture:  Acts 16:16-34

 

 

There are a bunch of easy sermons I could preach on the story that we just heard.

 

I could look at the story of how God was with Paul and Silas in prison, and how God used and earthquake to free them from their captivity.

 

I could look at the story of the jailor, and how, because of Paul’s compassion and goodness, because Paul chose not to use the opportunity to escape, the jailor came to know the love of God through the love of another human.

 

I could look at Paul and Silas in prison, and how, when things were at their worst, in the midnight hour, they chose to pray and sing hymns, and with this sermon I would probably ask how we respond in our midnight hour when things are at their worst.

 

I might even look at how Paul healed the young slave-girl from the spirit that possessed her – this is a story of healing, after all, and what spirits possess us that we need to be healed from?

 

I could probably take any one of these angles on the story that we heard today – it is such a rich story after all – and preach a feel-good sermon about it.

 

But I can’t do that.  I can’t do that because I keep tripping over the fact that the young slave girl who was owned by a wealthy family is used almost as a prop for Paul to show his healing powers, and then she disappears completely from the story.

 

And my heart goes out to this unnamed child.  She is a slave – she is a human who is owned by other humans, with no autonomy over her own life.  When her owners say, “Jump,” she jumps.  When her owners tell her to use her gift of divination, she uses her gift of divination and her owners keep all of the money that this gift brings in.

 

And when Paul casts out the spirit of divination from her, she is still a slave.  She may no longer be possessed, but she is still a possession.

 

And not only that, she is probably in a much more vulnerable position than she was at the beginning of the story.  At least at the beginning of the story, when she had a spirit of divination, she was valuable to her owners.  She made lots of money for them through her gift, and they likely extended more protection to her than they would a less-talented slave.  But now her gift is gone, and she is no longer able to make lots of money for her owners, and she is no longer worthy – in their eyes – of the extra care and protection she had before.  And if I let myself think too much into the story, my heart breaks as I think of how her owners might have used her after this story in order to try and recoup some of the value that Paul has taken away from her.

 

The Book of Acts is the story of the very early church – it is the story of how the Holy Spirit was working in the early church, causing the early church to grow and expand throughout the known world.  And as such, the perspective of the narrator is the perspective of Paul and of Silas and of Peter and of all of the early disciples and apostles who were spreading the gospel.

 

And from Paul’s perspective, this slave girl – oh, I wish that we knew her name – from Paul’s perspective, this unnamed slave girl was an annoyance, as she followed them around, shouting at them; he cast out the spirit from her, and then likely never gave her another thought.  She is a very minor side character in the story of the Book of Acts.

 

And yet in her own story – in the story of her life – she is the main character.  And I also think that in God’s perspective, she is also valuable, a precious and beloved child, worthy of care and attention, just as all people are.

 

And yet Paul is so focused on his own story that he isn’t able to see her once she is no longer pestering him.  She is a prop in a public healing he performs, and then she is forgotten.

 

My heart goes out to her, but at the same time I also have to wonder who else in the world goes overlooked and unseen and forgotten.  Looking at Canadian history, my mind jumps to all of the children who died in Residential Schools run by churches including our own – who saw them in their suffering and in their death?  Their families and their classmates, as the rest of the world turned away.

 

Or more recently, how many Indigenous women and girls have gone missing, without their disappearances being thoroughly investigated?

 

Another heartbreaking, more contemporary example might be all of the children who are killed as debate carries on over gun control. Their pictures are splashed all over the media for a couple of days; but when the media moves on to the next story and the debate shifts back to the realm of the hypothetical, who bears witness to their suffering and to the suffering of their families?

 

And we always have to be asking ourselves, who do we not see in the story of our own lives?  Just as Paul carried on, arrested, imprisoned, preaching and singing even in jail, then using his privilege as a Roman Citizen to be released; as we move through our own lives, carrying our privilege whether it be privilege given to us based on the colour of our skin or the language we speak or our education or our socioeconomic status or our gender or our sexual orientation – as we move through our lives, who are we not seeing?  Or even more than that – who might we be unintentionally causing harm to, and why are we unable to see the consequences of that harm?

 

But the good news is that this unnamed slave girl, as inconsequential as she was to Paul and the course of his life, she did matter to God.  Even when Paul didn’t see her, God did.  Even when Paul caused unintended harm to her, God longed for her to be free.

 

I think of Jesus proclaiming a message of liberation, a message of good news to the poor, a message of freedom from every form of captivity; and I wish that Paul had been able to channel that message on that day in Philippi.  I wish that Paul had been able to see past his privilege to see where he was causing harm.

 

But before I am too harsh on Paul, I have to remind myself that hindsight is 20/20, and so if I am judging Paul for what he couldn’t see, then I also need to judge myself for the things that I don’t see around me – things that may only be revealed in the future.

 

And I have to seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom to remain humble, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance to open my eyes and my ears and my heart to the people around me.

 

And may it be so.  Amen.

 

 

“REDress” – photo by Rodger Evans on Flickr

Used with Permission

How many people are unseen, unnoticed, forgotten?

 

 

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)