Angle double raise takeouts, (Un)Coupling,& Toasters

Every Monday night in winter, I grab my shoes and my broom and head to the Steinbach Curling Club to curl with my dad.  The old man plays skip, and I play third.

I not only love to actually curl, but I also love simply watching curling on TV.  During the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Brier, I’ll often pull up curling on my phone and go to bed watching the roaring game.  When I asked Ashley to marry me, I’m not sure she would have said yes if she knew this was a thing.

I love the strategy behind it.  And the technicality behind it.  But I also love how down to earth it is, where on most Monday nights, win or lose, both teams head upstairs to the bar and can sit together at a table and laugh at all the shots we missed.

My curling team, this year, had a bit of a rough start.  We lost our first 7 games in a row. I’d rather go to the dentist 7 weeks in a row to get my teeth cleaned than lose 7 games in a row.

The good news, though, is that since losing 7 in a row, we have now won 8 in a row.  Yes, we are in the B division and not the A division, but still, we have won 8 in a row, and that is better than losing 8 in a row. I like to think that we’re peaking at the right time.

But, the real highlight for me, is that I have gone from missing most of my shots, to making more of my shots.  And I think that my improved shot making is having a direct impact on our overall record.

Now, obviously, the better you play the more likely you are to win… That’s in any sport. But in curling, how well you play directly affects the person after you.  So, in our case, me making my shots means that my dad has relatively easy shots to make, like an open draw, or an open hit.  But, if I miss my shots, oh my, then the old skipper has to get in the hack and make an angle raise double take-out every end. Which he usually misses. And then we lose.

Most curling games cannot be won by the skip alone.  In order to win, most curling games require the whole team to play well.  You cannot win by yourself.

In today’s Scripture reading, Jesus got baptized. But, he did not baptize himself.

He asked John the Baptist to do it.  And, every time I preach about John the Baptist, I simply have to use this picture.  Every time.

Although this year, a random person on the internet sent me a picture of John the Baptist in the Red River in winter, which is just delightful.

red_river_john_batist

Jesus INSISTED that John baptize him.  The son of God, the prince of Peace, the Messiah, was adamant that a regular human preacher baptize him.

Jesus allowed this to happen to him.  He surrendered.  He gave his consent.  He trusted the people around him.  Jesus did not consider himself strong or independent or superior.  He actually did the opposite.  He took a position of inferiority and vulnerability and dependence.

And only then was he ready to be baptized.

His baptism was not a sign of him being ready, that he had reached some magical level of faith maturity, or having all the answers. No! It happened at the beginning of his ministry.  It was a sign of him being open.

Open to God’s way of living.


Well, I like to think of baptism being about both coupling and uncoupling .

We couple ourselves, we link ourselves, we ally ourselves, we choose to place ourselves in the Kingdom of God… We couple ourselves to God’s rule, both in our hearts and in our world.  We open ourselves up to walking together as a community, to care for each other, to be the body, to both give and receive grace and peace, to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to orient our lives around being a disciple of Jesus.

Also, we uncouple ourselves, we break up, we dissociate, we disconnect ourselves from that which is the opposite of God.  Selfishness, racism, the desire for vengeance and revenge, sexism, hatred, nationalism, rage, envy, and more

Now I know that these lists are pretty intense.  And none of us are really good at doing or not doing all these things all the time.  But again, the story of Jesus’ baptism isn’t about him arriving, or having it all together.  It’s about the intent.  The openness.  The allowing of God to change our lives.  The aligning of our lives with God’s purposes.  And the community of people that commits itself to walk together, and invites others to join them on that path.

Not because we’re good at it.   But because we want to.

Well, I’ve already talked about my parents today, so now I’ll talk about my marriage.

Ash and I got married young.  Now that I’m old and wise I say that we got married too young to not know that we didn’t know anything.  But we have no regrets.  I’ve rather enjoyed getting old and wise with Ashley, and becoming a couple that wants to go to sleep at 9pm every night.

But we didn’t wait to get married until we had all the answers.  Or knew how to be a great husband and wife.  We learned along the way.  There have been moments where I have been an above average husband, like this year for Ashley’s birthday, when I arranged that the staff and students at her school would give her a special present from me every hour she was at work. And moments where I’ve been a below average husband, like that winter when our toaster broke so her Christmas present was a new toaster that was on sale for fifteen bucks.

You don’t think about all these things on your wedding day. How can you? Life is hard sometimes.  And you don’t know when those toasters are going to be on sale.  But you can think about why you’re getting married, how you intend to treat each other, and how you’ll figure out the details as they come, but you know it’ll be okay because no matter what you, you’ll face them together.

But postures of openness, intent, vulnerability and commitment are pretty important to healthy relationships.

And when we do adopt these postures in our spiritual lives, we join others along the way.  Because none of us can baptize ourselves.  We are part of a 58 year old Grace Mennonite Church tradition, a 494 year old Anabaptist tradition, and a 2000 year old Jesus tradition, all of which have been filled with saints holding the Christ light for us.  And we are invited to do the same for the next 58 years, the next 494 years, and the next 2000 years.

Because none of us can baptize ourselves.


But, my favourite part of this story is at the end, where a dove comes down and we hear God speaking.

This is the first time we hear God speak in the New Testament, so we should probably pay attention to what she is saying.

 “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”

See, these are two lines from Old Testament Scriptures:

Psalm 2:7, invoking images of being a king.

I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.

And Isaiah 42:1 , showing what kind of King he will be… A different kind of king: one that serves, and one that will bring justice to the nations.

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

A king who serves, and works for justice

“This is my beloved son; I am well pleased.”

I like to think that these words, spoken by God, apply to us today.

That of all the voices in our world that tell us that we’re not good enough, that we need to be better and try harder, that we need to look a certain way or do a certain thing.  A voice can penetrate them all with the words:  You are my beloved child, and with you, I am well pleased.

God has chosen us.  All we can do is to allow that love into our lives and let it rule.  We just have to receive it.   We just have to say yes to it.  We just to give God permission.

 

Fruit Cake, Street Cred, & Throwing Food at King Herod

Today is Epiphany Sunday.

My first year as a pastor, a solid thirteen and a half years ago, I was given the task of preaching on Epiphany Sunday.

And the week before I was supposed to preach, I distinctly remember asking my co-workers:  “What in the world is Epiphany Sunday?”

My co-workers stared at 22 year old Kyle and probably thought “Who in the world did we hire?”

I now like to think of it as them having an opportunity to take a young naïve pastor and introduce him to the church calendar.

See, for most of us, after we’ve gone Boxing Day shopping and the Christmas tree is put away and the calendar turns to 2019, we promptly move on from little baby Jesus being born.

But if we follow the church calendar, oh no, we are still in the depths of Christmas.  Because little baby Jesus was 12 days ago, and we need to keep celebrating.

And Epiphany Sunday is when we tell the story of the three wisemen showing up on the scene, bringing gifts to little baby Jesus.

Except that… The three wisemen actually showed up about two years after Jesus was born.  So little baby Jesus is actually little toddler Jesus, in the middle of his terrible twos and probably saying NO to everything his parents say.

far side

And our Bibles don’t even record how many of wisemen there were.  We just think there were three because of the three gifts.

Gary Larson, with his Far Side Cartoon, thinks there may have been a 4th wiseman, but he wasn’t allowed in the door because he brought fruit cake.

And the Bible doesn’t even say that they were men, or wise.

If they were really wise they would’ve brought better gifts that frankinscense, gold and myrhh… like diapers, soothers, and a potty training book.

And because they had to stop to ask for directions, surely there must have been a woman amongst the lot of them, as we all know the stereotype that most men would rather be lost for days than stop and ask for directions.

Okay.  Enough lame jokes.

Epiphany is another word for “Aha!”  “Eurkea!”  It’s a light bulb moment, where one says “Oh! Now I see what’s going on here!”  It’s like when you finally understand what a derivative is in calculus.

Epiphany is where we remember the magi meeting toddler Jesus, and it’s called Epiphany Sunday because it’s a Sunday were some pretty big things are revealed.

Revealed.

It’s a word I use often when I preach.

Jesus reveals to us the nature of God.  The cross and resurrection reveal what God’s love and victory look like.  The parables of Jesus and The apocalyptic texts reveal the inner hearts of his listeners.

Reveal.  Something is there, and it’s always been there, and it’s just that now we have the eyes to see it.

And for the next few months, we’re reading and preaching about Jesus as found in the gospel of Matthew, so there’s going to be a lot of revealing of who Jesus us.

The story of the magi reveals four things to me.  There are probably more, so if I miss some, please do tell me, and then I’ll be sure to put you on the preaching schedule for Epiphany next year.

Epiphany #1 –  The magi stopped to ask directions to toddler Jesus from King Herod.  I’ll spare you the long history lesson with a short synopsis:  King Herod was a Jewish puppet king set up by the Romans to rule the area.  And he was a homicidal maniac.  So much so, that when the magi didn’t return to tell him where toddler Jesus was, King Herod ordered the killing of all the baby boys age two and under.  He figured that if he couldn’t the one little boy king to kill, he’d just kill all the little boys.  Homicidal maniac.

And so the magi set up the scene where Joseph and Mary and Jesus flee to Egypt. They left their home for a different home, fleeing violence in one country for safety in another.

In today’s world, we call that a migrant.   Or a refugee.  Or an asylum seeker.

Jesus was a refugee. 

Jesus was a migrant. 

Jesus was an asylum seeker.

I’ve preached on this before here at church, so I won’t belabour the point, but to posture oneself as against refugees or against migrants coming to our country, you are literally setting yourself up to be against Jesus.

In a world where there are 68 million displaced people (the most we’ve ever had on the plantet), and in a world where borders are being more and more closed to refugees, Mary and Joseph fleeing with toddler Jesus to a new country is a pretty big deal.   And the story still speaks to us today.

Jesus was a refugee.  Jesus was a migrant. And we will keep telling this story every year on Epiphany Sunday.

And the good news?  It is really, really easy to help refugee toddler Jesus.  When you put money in the offering plate that we stick in front of you every Sunday, 7.5% of that is designated towards sponsoring a Syrian refugee family that we are currently waiting for.  Our church, and our refugee committee, has made it really, really, really easy to help.   That’s good news.

Moving on.

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From now til Easter, we will be preaching through the gospel of Matthew.  Matthew was the gospel written primarily to the Jewish community, and some of the stories, or quirky details he includes, make a bit more sense when we remember this.

For example, someone over Christmas asked me, “Kyle, why do we keep calling Jesus the Key of David, or the Son of David.”  Well, Matthew was intentional about showing that Jesus was in the lineage of King David in an effort to “up the street cred” of Jesus.  To modernize it, this is literally like people in Steinbach playing the Mennonite game of who’s grandparents or great-grandparents were mayor back in the day. “You should listen to me, because do you know who my grandpa was?!?”  While we may roll our eyes a bit now about this, Jesus being in the lineage of King David was a really big deal to the Jewish community.

So, I’ll give you the next two epiphanies at once, because they’re related.

Epiphany #2 and #3Insiders can be outsiders, and outsiders can be insiders.

Insiders can actually be outsiders:  King Herod was Jewish.  A homicidal maniac, but Jewish nonetheless.   And he missed it.  He totally missed it.  He knew the religion, he knew the stories, he knew his texts, he had access to priests and religious scholars, but he still missed Jesus.  Herod belonging to his religious community did not stop him from missing God entirely.

And related, outsiders are now insiders:  The magi were scholars from a different country, and a different religion, and a different economic class. They should have been among the last ones to come and pay homage to a toddler born in the lineage of King David.  And yet, here they were.    The outsiders are now insiders.

This is the beginning of the gospel writer of Matthew speaking about God’s love and God’s community being for everybody, not just the chosen, not just the select, not just the holy ones blessed by God.  The good news of Jesus is for EVERYBODY.

And, if we put on our bible nerd hats on,  (and I know a bunch of you got bible nerd hats for Christmas), we know that the gospel of Matthew was written in 80-90 CE, about 20-30 years after the Apostle Paul wrote his letters.  And we know that the Apostle Paul spent a lot of time claiming that GOD’S LOVE WAS UNIVERSAL, how it’s for everyone.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:28)

So in the middle of the early church debating questions about who’s out and who’s in and how that all works, Matthew shows up on the scene and drops this story on them.

You want to know who’s in?  Foreigners from a different religion. And you want to know who’s out?  Jewish king Herod.

I think these epiphanies are good news because

  1. It should cause us to be quite humble, and far less judgy. Because simply participating in a religion, in a church community, showing up and sitting in the same pew every Sunday, doesn’t mean that we won’t miss God either.
  2. And it’s also good news because it’s reminder that we should keep our eyes and hearts open to where God shows up, because God can show up in a whole variety of places, and to a whole variety of people. None of us have a monopoly on God.  And that is good news indeed.

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And finally, Epiphany #4 –   Little toddler Jesus is NOT running around the halls of power.

Little toddler Jesus is not throwing his food at King Herod.  Little toddler Jesus isn’t being raised to be Emperor.  Little toddler Jesus is born OUTSIDE any sort of power structure or authority or government.

It’s almost as if God says, “I don’t trust that any king, queen, president, prime minster, or emperor would know what to do with Jesus.  So we’re just going to bypass that entire system.”

Toddler Jesus bypassing the halls of power, the decision makers, the ones with power, the ones with access to wealth and armies and the ability to write legislation… Genius move there by God.  Genius.

It’s genius because can you imagine if Jesus were born a Republican?  Or a Democrat?  Or a New Democrat?  Or a Conservative?  Or a Liberal?  Or a Green?  Or a Bloc Quebecois?  Or whatever party Maxime Bernier is starting?   Or if Jesus was born as a leader of the Romans, the Persians, or the British or the French or the Russians or God forbid our best friends the Americans?  Or gasp… What is Jesus was born a Canadians?   We wouldn’t use that for our own gain, would we?

I mean, like, can you imagine what kings and queens and presidents and prime ministers would do in the name of God is they thought God was on their side, and they had Jesus in their back pocket?

Can you imagine?

Oh, right.  We can.  Because we’ve been living with rulers claiming God’s on their side only since… forever.

And you know… If God’s on your side, you can’t really disagree with that, can you?  You should need to get in line and follow.

This is actually one the reasons why, as a pastor, I have never directly said “God told me to say this.”  Because then, shoot, if God told me, then none of you can disagree with me, and that’s not how we role both here at Grace, or as Anabaptists either.  God’s will is discerned in community, but we’ll be hearing about that in February.

So Jesus avoiding the halls of earthly power is this great new idea that we should maybe keep reminding ourselves of.

Nobody has a monopoly on God.  God will not be confined by our earthly structures and systems and government.  God might even choose to work around them entirely.  If we pay attention, God is present on all sides.  And this is good news for all of us.

So, those are my 4 epiphanies.

My 4 ahas!  Four of the things revealed by the story of magi.

Jesus was a refugee.

Insiders can be outsiders.

Outsiders can be insiders.

And God chose to avoid the halls of power.   

And I would suggest that these 4 things are all good news for us today. And, I’m kind of looking forward to seeing what other good new will be revealed as we keep learning  about and worshipping Jesus.