Mel Gibson, Sir Paul McCartney, Sarah Palin, and Leonard Cohen

A sermon, based on Mark 5:21-43.


 

The Gospel of Mark was written to Christians in the Roman Empire, who were not only on the edges of society but also without social or political power.  They were also facing the very real threat of death, as the Roman Emperor at the time was a guy named Nero, and he was quite okay with Christians dying.

The Gospel of Mark also tells the story of Jesus Braveheart-1living and teaching and interacting in Galilee, a place that the Roman Empire had conquered, and every time they tried rebelling against the Romans, to throw off the shackles of oppression like Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart (FREEDOM!!!!) they got crushed even more.  It can be said that the Roman Empire had its boot to the throat of the Jewish people.

And here we have two stories of healing intertwined with each other.  One, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, a social outcast who had no money, and nobody wanted to be with her.  The other, a well respected Jewish synagogue leader whose daughter was dying.

Both of them were kind of desperate, weren’t they?  The woman was alone and broke and on the margins of society.  The man couldn’t do anything for his daughter, feeling quite useless and powerless in the face of death.  Their worlds were falling apart all around them, and they came to Jesus looking for healing.

When reading the words of Jesus in this text, and actually, most of other texts in gospels, we notice that Jesus almost always praises someone’s faith and trust more than their love.

He doesn’t tell the woman to go and be loving.  He tells her, “Your faith has healed you.”

He doesn’t tell the man to go and be loving.  He tells him, “Don’t be afraid.  Just believe.”

Jesus praises faith and trust, more than love.

Which is kind of remarkable, because if Jesus is what God looks like in the world, and God is love, then surely Jesus is all about love.  And in the parable we heard this morning, Jesus praises right living over right thinking.  It’s not about the words we 053d3a04e2b19705992ed77872fa1b1csay, it’s about the actions that we do.  In other places Jesus says that doing to others what you would have them do to you is the summary of the law.   James, the brother of Jesus, even wrote down “Love, without action, is dead.Love your neighbour as yourself.   It’s all about love!  We may as well just start singing like Sir Paul McCartney -“All you need is love, love love.  Love is all you need.”

Except that the Beatles broke up.

If it’s all about love, then why does Jesus praise faith and trust so much?

Well, what do we do when we fall?

What do we do when we fail?

What do we do when we love someone and they don’t love us back?

What do we do when our loved ones die, when we have chronic pain, when life seems unfair?

What do we do when war breaks out?  When there’s a terrorist attack?

What do we do when we lose our jobs?  Or if we go bankrupt?  Or if we get screwed by a business partner?   Or if we have crushing debt?

What do we do when someone swears at us while curling? Or we crash our car into someone else?

All you need is love, right?

On Thursday at 12:15 pm, the headlines on CBC were about sexual donald-trump-sarah-palin-alliance-rharassment, federal budget deficits, job losses, doctors making mistakes, the low dollar, pipelines, refugees, contaminated water that caused irreversible brain damage in children, doctor assisted suicide, and Sarah Palin (how in the world did she make it back into the news cycle?!?).

All you need is love, right?

What do you do when you’re bleeding for 12 years and have no money and there’s no social safety net?

What do you when your daughter is dying, and there’s nothing you can do about it?

All you need is love.

Maybe we need more than love at times.

Maybe, if love is the goal, then faith and trust seem to be how we get there.

Maybe faith and trust are the path to love.

Maybe faith and trust are what keep us going when life is hard and it’s hard to love.

Maybe faith and trust are what keeps us from being cynical, from being closed to others, from being full of resentment and negativity, and from being filled with despair.

Maybe faith and trust are foundational.

Jesus values right living over right thinking, but praises faith and trust more than love.

Back to our story:

Remember the audience that Jesus was speaking to?  Jewish people who had Roman boots to their throats.

Remember the audience that Mark was writing to:  Christians who had no power and were facing violent persecution.

Love is what’s it’s all about, but faith and trust are how we get there.

At the time, the Romans were going around, killing and enslaving people by the thousands as they conquered the world.  They insisted that they were bringing peace to the world, and they even had a propaganda phrase for this:  Pax Romana.  Roman Peace.  Peace through Victory.

Another one of the Roman Empire’s propaganda pieces was “Caesar is Lord.”  And if you disagreed with that, well, they’d nail you to a cross.

Then, a small, rag tag group of powerless people from a corner of the empire come along and say, “Cesar isn’t Lord.  Jesus is Lord.”  They didn’t believe that peace came through military might, but rather that God made peace through his resurrected son.  For them, Jesus was a better way, a way that made the whole world better through sacrificial love, not coercive violence.

Jesus is Lord.

That takes a bit of trust, doesn’t it?  That takes a bit of faith.  To claim Jesus as Lord meant reordering one’s life, one’s social fabric, one’s bank account, while being so counter-cultural that you risk being killed… All you need is faith and trust in Jesus, Da-da-da-da-da-da

Trust and faith in Jesus seems to be the path for a radical new way of living and loving and being community together.

I do want to make a note here that this is starting to sound like a Christian cliché, where, if you just trust and have faith, then everything is going to be fine.  Or “Smile!  Jesus loves you!”  We know that it isn’t that straight forward…

I like to think that faith and trust in God isn’t a false sense of reality, like we’re have our heads in the sand, being unaware of everything.  Having faith and trust in God isn’t us walking through town and not hearing the firetruck sirens because we have our fingers in our ears and we’re humming Jesus loves me. When faith and trust in Jesus is used simply as a ticket to heaven, that’s not a path to love.  That’s delayed gratification, and delayed gratification isn’t about love.  Choosing to not eat a chocolate bar today so that you can have two tomorrow has nothing to do with love.

I like to think that, rather, that faith and trust simply keep us on the path to love.  I think that when we encounter all the hard things in life, or the hard stories, or the hard people, or all the parts of ourselves that we realize aren’t all that nice, faith and trust in following Jesus keeps us looking for love and grace and peace and healing.   Faith and trust keep us open.

I think that’s why Jesus praises trust and faith more than love.  “It takes a foundational trust to fall, or to fail, and not to fall apart.” – Richard Rohr

This is the story of the woman and the man.  In the moments of their darkness, they turned to Jesus, looking for healing.

It’s my hope and my prayer that for all of us, as individuals and as a community, that in all of the ups and downs and in-betweens of life, in all the black and white and grey areas, as we try to figure out what following Jesus means in our lives when life is beautiful and when it’s a chaos filled mess with only slivers of light, may we always remember that faith and trust are the path towards love.

As Leonard Cohen sings “Love is not a victory march.  It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”

(As usual, thanks to Rob Bell and Richard for their words (some of which I borrowed directly) and influencing much of this sermon).

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Nero, Bono, and Ruffling Feathers

Based on Mark 2:1-22.

Scholars tell us that the book of Mark was written between 55 and 70 Common Era to explain who Jesus was.  Christians at that time, about 30 years after Jesus, were a small, fledgling offshoot of Judaism, especially popular among the poor and the destitute.

This information is important because it tells us who the audience was, and some of the challenges that they faced.

Between 55 and 70 CE, the Roman emperor was a guy named Nero.  He was a nut ball, and some historians wonder how the Roman Empire survived his rule.

And, when he was accused of starting a week long fire in Rome that burned down three quarter of the city in order to make more space for his palace, he said, “It wasn’t me!  It was the Christians!” And so the killing of the Christians began.

The Romans really had a taste for blood, and devised all sorts of excruciating ways to kill their victims.  Crucifixion, lions, being lit on fire…  There are even reports of the Romans making Christian parents watch their children be fed to hungry dogs.

When writing this book about Jesus, Mark’s audience was a small, poor, destitute group of cultural outsiders trying to follow Jesus while staring death in the face.  They had little money and no power and were afraid for their lives.  The emperor Nero was quite okay if they were wiped off the face of the Earth.

I find that knowing this information not only helps explain some of the stories about Jesus that we find in Mark, but also reminds us how much of a different world we live in today.  In our world, we have money, health care, CPP payments, and social assistance.  We don’t have the death penalty in Canada.  We have written laws about religious freedom, we have our highest politicians identifying as Christian, and we have rural municipalities declaring that they will continue to pray at meetings.

When we stop and think about who the gospel of Mark was written for, the audience seems to be quite different than most of us today.

Let’s keep this in mind as we look over these stories.


Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralyzed Man

 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”


We start with the story of the paralytic man, whose friends took apart a roof so their friend could experience healing.  These guys loved their friend.  Obviously.

It reminds me of an old story.    Someone went up to two older people who attended church their entire lives, and asked them a question.  “Are you a Christian?”

The first one answered: “Yes.  I am a born again baptized believer.”

The second answered:  “Well, you’re asking the wrong person.  You’d better ask my neighbours.”

The friends of the paralytic man understood this. They loved their friend.  Deeply.  They put their faith into action.  And, as we read in verse 5, it was this faith in action that Jesus responded to.

Now, remember the first readers of this gospel.  A church full of poor and destitute outsiders facing persecution.  This is a story about love for people on the margins, unable to fully participate in society.  They is a story about love between friends.  This is a story about a community coming together to love their neighbour when they don’t have any political or social power.  In this story, the only power they have is their love.  Because of love, you take apart the roof.

Jesus always seems to place a higher value on right living instead of right thinking.  Both are important, and they probably lead into each other, but right living always seems to be held higher than right thinking.

Are you a Christian?  Ask my neighbour.


Jesus calls Levi and Eats with Sinners

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.

15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him.16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Jesus calls Levi, the tax collector, to follow him, and then he goes and has dinner with him and other sinners.

For those of us who grew up in churchy world, I could ask the question, “How many of us here are sinners?”  And we’d all dutifully raise our hands.  We know we’re not perfect and we say stupid things and sometimes think bad thoughts.

But, let’s go back to the original audience.  A church full of poor and destitute outsiders facing persecution.  I think sinners, here, didn’t mean people not swearing and not speeding. I think that “sinners”, here, could best be understood as “outsiders.”  “Outsiders” was something that Mark’s first audience could understand.

So, I were to ask us the question, “How many of us here are outsiders?”  I wonder how many of us would raise our hands?

Jim Wallis, part of the Sojourners community, was on CBC radio a few weeks ago, and he told a story about being at Davos at the World Economic Forum, a gathering of the world’s richest people and governments.

He said that recently, there’s been a bit of a values crises there, as we try to figure out what our massive wealth inequality means to the world, where 1% of the world’s population owns half the global wealth.  Even Pope Francis had written a letter to the meeting in Davos about this, saying that “Wealth should serve humanity, not rule it.” And at the end of the conference, Jim Wallis was asked to make some concluding remarks.

He looked around at the people there:  Bill Gates, Bono, CEOs, heads of states, and other famous, rich people.  He said to them, “Look around you. Understand that this is the most included room on the planet.  You are the most included people.  So the moral test of your vocation is how do the most included relate to the most excluded.”

Are we included, or excluded? Are we insiders or outsiders?

And who does Jesus come to first? Those of us who are outsiders.

Funny story:  I was applying for a job as youth pastor at my previous church in Winnipeg,

So, the church I was applying to was a little more on the theologically conservative end of things, and in my application I had written down that the radical message of Jesus is about radical inclusivity and radical obedience.  All ten people in the interview had circled the word “inclusivity”, and asked what I meant by that word.  Well as you may know by now, I often say things without always thinking, and I said the first thing that came out of my mouth.

“Well, if Jesus came to Winnipeg today, where would he go hang out first?  He’d probably skip most of our churches and go hang out a gay bar.”

I cannot believe that they hired me that day.

Who does Jesus come to first? Those of us who are outsiders.  Yes, those of us who are rich and powerful and educated and pay our taxes on time and cut our grass and iron our shirts also need Jesus, but Jesus always seems to start at the bottom.  And this, was great news to a church filled with people at the bottom of society, and still is good news for us today.

Opposition

Before we go to story #3, let’s talk about some of the opposition Jesus was facing.

In all the gospels, including Mark, Jesus always seems to be rubbing up against some opposition.  He’s ticking people off and ruffling some feathers.  And if we notice, the people he’s frustrating are all people who are either wealthy, religious leaders, or people who have some sort of social capital or power.

When I preached about hell a few years ago, one of the many things that I remember is that the only sinners Jesus condemns to hell are rich people who won’t share, and religious leaders.

Which, as a rich, religious leader, is always a good thing to remember.

Jesus keeps rubbing people the wrong way. Shane Claiborne, one of my favourite authors, tells it like this:

“I always tell our community that we should attract the people Jesus attracted and frustrate the people Jesus frustrated. It’s certainly never our goal to frustrate, but it is worth noting that the people who were constantly agitated were the self-righteous, religious elite, the rich, and the powerful. But the people who were fascinated by him, by his love and grace, were folks who were already wounded and ostracized — folks who didn’t have much to lose, who already knew full well that they were broken and needed a Savior.”

This morning, I’m just going to let that sit with us.   As someone who has a 5 bedroom house in the suburbs and a pension plan and social capital out the whazoo, this makes me uncomfortable.  But I’m okay with that.

As Shane Claiborne also says:  “For some: Life was a mess, then you met Jesus. For me: Life was smooth and Jesus messed me up.”

Because if we are comfortable, we really won’t change, will we?     Which brings us to the final story.


Jesus Questioned about Fasting

18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”

19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.

21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”


Jesus was asked a question about following the law and fasting, and he answered with the metaphor of new wine and old wine and new wineskins and old wineskins.  Jesus basically told his listeners that if you wanted to understand and practice following  him, it is going to involve a whole new way of life and a whole new way of thinking.

What we had, our old wineskins, served their purpose.  Old wine.

But if we want new wine, well, those old wineskins gotta go.

These stories in Mark really challenge our old wineskins.  Questions of success, safety, power… questions of economic and military might… The Roman empire answered those questions, quite well.   Old wineskins.

But the Kingdom of God is like new wine.  Good news for the poor and oppressed and marginalized and outsiders doesn’t always fit well into the categories of security and safety and wealth and power.

Jesus seems to know this right off the bat.  The new wine is about a community of people guided by love for each other, especially for those on the margins.  It takes new wine skins, new containers, to encompass this radical way of Jesus.

What these new wineskins look like, well, that’s the question to ponder, isn’t it.  It’s a question that we can ponder as individuals, as families, as friends, as a community seeking to follow Jesus.  It’s a question that will never be answered very easily, and involves some deep contemplation and reflection.  It involves trial and error, getting it right sometimes, but other times, we’re going to get it spectacularly wrong.

The good news, though, is that as we ponder Jesus and how we live because of that, I truly believe that there is enough grace and forgiveness for everyone.  For both outsiders and insiders.  For both poor and rich.  For both the weak and the powerful.  I’m sure there is even enough grace for ourselves.

 

Optical illusions, Casseroles, and Moose

This morning, we are celebrating Epiphany.  Technically, Epiphany is on January 6, but we moved it up to today because it worked better with our preaching schedule.

When I started as a pastor 11 years ago, I was given the job of preaching on Epiphany, and I remember asking, “What’s Epiphany?” as I really had no idea.

There are two things going on at Epiphany.

The first is a more technical understanding.  An epiphany is a sudden or striking realization.  It’s an “Aha!” moment.   A light bulb turning on.  A “Eureka” moment! A moment where we fog is lifted and we now see.

Like this for example. mainimage

Do you see an old woman, or a young woman?

And then, that moment where you see both of them… Ah!  There it is!

That’s an epiphany.

The second thing about Epiphany Sunday is it’s where we celebrate the magi from the East coming to visit the child Jesus, and bring him frankincense, myrrh, and gold.

Now there’s a lot of lore and myth around the story of the magi.  We call them wisemen, magi, kings, astrologers… We talk about three, but their number is unknown.  Over the centuries we’ve even given them names! Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior!  (Not exactly high on the baby names of 2015 though).

For this morning, it doesn’t really matter.  We’re just going to roll with the plot of some people from afar came and visited Jesus.

But, a quick aside.  There’s a joke going around on social media every Christmas.   Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if the three wise men were women?  They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts, and there would be peace on earth.  Har har.  Very funny. I resent this, as I make a mean casserole, helped deliver my kids, and can change a diaper with my eyes closed.

Okay. Back to the journey of the magi.

But let’s start with the word “journey.”

I like the idea of journeys. It’s a word that signifies experience. It signifies adventure.  It’s a word that signifies to us that the destination isn’t the only goal.  That how we get there is partly the point.  It helps us understand that we’ve never truly arrived, that we’ve never finished, that every step is part of the experience.

When I go canoeing, I love getting to the campsite for the day.  I love setting up the tent and making a fire and watching the sun go down.  I love watching the sun rise in the morning and showing my kids the beavers swimming by.

But the campsite isn’t the only goal.  I also love getting to the campsite.  Where every corner you turn you look for a moose in the shallows.  Where you see a fish a jump close to you.  Where you see fallen trees and cliffs and bays waiting to be explored.

In a journey, every part of it is included in the experience.

We also use this language for faith.  Not a destination.  A journey.

It’s where we understand that being a disciple of Jesus, that growing in our faith, that learning to love and forgive, learning to trust God, is a continual process. We’ve never really arrived.  We can usually be sure that if we thinking we’ve arrived is a sign that we haven’t.  God is never really done with us, and very few of us claim to have this whole spirituality thing nailed down, or consider ourselves experts in grace and peace, so we use the language of journey.  Where every new day is a new challenge and opportunity.  Where every time we stray from the path, we can get back on the path.  Faith journey has become part of our vocabulary.

Years ago, I was taking a CMU course with a prof from Harvard, Sharon Daloz-Parks, and besides being an incredible teacher, she said something that has stuck with me ten years later.

She said that while she understands why we use the word “journey” to describe our faith, she found it to be a bit to individualistic and self-centered. That faith is my journey with God, and really, if this is my journey, who are you to criticize it?

This, I believe, has led to many of us in Canada say, “Well, we’re spiritual, but not religious.”  Which, on one hand, I totally get and understand and have respect for this. We believe that life is bigger than us an our individual successes and Boxing Day shopping, but we don’t want to participate in religious rites and rituals that don’t give us life.  But on the other hand, if you were to ask how our “non-religious spirituality” affects our lives, very few of us would cite extra giving, or volunteering, or mediation, or shoveling extra driveways, or loving our enemies.

When we make faith a journey only about ourselves and God, we risk people hiding behind the idea of God while exhibiting very little transformation in their lives.

**Note – Christians are also really, really, really good at hiding behind the idea of God while exhibiting very little transformation in their lives.  Heck, I’m pretty good at hiding behind the idea of God.**

So, my prof told us that instead of the word journey, she uses the word “pilgrimage”.

A pilgrimage is a trip to a holy site, and when we’re there, we encounter something divine that changes us. And then, we go back home, bearing gifts for our community.

A journey is about a trip and back.  A pilgrimage is about being changed and blessing our communities.

It’s like MCC’s SALT program that I went to Zimbabwe with 13 years ago.  SALT is an acronym for Serving and Learning Together, where they send young people around the world to work in a variety of NGO’s for a year. And when we got back, at our debriefing, they said to us.

“We kind of tricked you. We sent you to serve and learn, but really, while the serving you was great, if we really only cared about that, we could have hired locals to do the work you did with much for efficiency, since they understand the local language and culture.  But, what we really send you out to do was to learn. To learn about who you are and a bit more about the world and a bit more about God, and now that you’re going home, you’re going to take all that you learned and go and serve at home.  We thought about calling the program Learning and Serving Together, but the acronym LAST isn’t quite as good as SALT.”

You’re going to take what you learned with you and serve at home. A pilgrimage.

I now like to think of the journey of the magi as the pilgrimage of the magi, where they left everything to go and encounter Jesus, and because of that experience, their lives were never the same.

They allowed an encounter with Jesus to change them.  They had an epiphany, their “Aha!” moment. They re-orientated their lives around it.  They followed a star to a foreign land and met a king.

At Christmas time, it’s really easy to go on a journey to visit baby Jesus.  We have children’s concerts and Steve Bell played with the WSO and we have Christmas carols everywhere and churches fill up for Advent, especially on Christmas Eve.  We donate extra money, volunteer more, and go caroling with our friends.  We talk about the Christmas spirit being in the air.

So maybe a better question for us to ponder is, do we allow those experiences to change us?  What gifts do we bring back to our community?  Are we more generous?    Peaceful?  Loving?  Hopeful?

As we have for all our Advent services, we’ll have a slideshow of paths and offer a time of reflection.  As we reflect today, let’s ask ourselves,

Because of our pilgrimage to the manger on Christmas, what gifts are we bringing back to our community?

 

 

A weekend at your in-laws, Grade 4, and the Return of the Jets

A third advent sermon on Ezra 1:1-4, 3:1-4, 10-13


 

The Old Testament is full of stories that tell the history of the Israelites.  It’s a library of books that were written by different people in different places for different reasons.  We have books of law and books of history and books of poetry and books of wisdom and books of prophecy.

And, every once in a while, if we’re able to take a step back, we notice something remarkable about these books.  They don’t only include the positive sides of the story.  They also include the negatives.  The criticisms.

For every good king we read about, there’s a prophet, saying, “Hey!  Wake up!  You’re still missing something here!”

For every good character we read about, we read about many of their dark sides and their penchant to lie, steal, kill, commit adultery, and ignore the poor around them.

We so desperately want to create categories of people and kingdoms and stories and label them as either good or bad, but if read these stories carefully, they just don’t give us a lot of fairy tale endings.

It takes as mature person to criticize their people while remaining among them.  It takes a mature person to criticize their faith, while remaining within it.  It takes a mature person to criticize their country, their church, or even themselves and their family, while remaining in it.

Today’s story is one of those stories.

So let’s pull out the old map, because trying to read these Old Testament stories without knowing what’s going on is always a bad idea.  photo.PNG

The Israelites were in Egypt as slaves.  Moses led the out, and then spent 40 years wandering the desert.  Then they set up a kingdom here, and couldn’t quite figure out how to get along, so it split into two.  Then the big bad Assyrians came and wiped out the Northern Kingdom.  Then the big bad Babylonians came and wiped out the Assyrians and took most of the Southern Kingdom back to Babylon, and this is called the exile.  And then the big bad Persians came and took over the Babylonians, and then Cyrus, King of the Persians, tells Ezra to lead the Jews home to go and rebuild their temple.

And this is where we pick up the story. After getting beaten up and kicked around and kidnapped and killed for the last two hundred years, the people were going home.

Oh yeah, we’re going home.  Kind of like how you feel after a long weekend at your in-laws.  Only imagine living there for decades. See ya!  It’s good to be home.

Only, we read in verse 3 that when they went home, the land wasn’t empty.  People who were left behind from the exile were still there.  Foreigners who moved in to the land, armies had left people there after conquest.  The land wasn’t empty, and Ezra and his people were afraid.  Afraid of the conflict that might arise.  Afraid that their hopes and dreams might be dashed.  Afraid that their safety was at risk.  Afraid that the houses their grandparents had built were being lived in by others.  Afraid of people who were different than them.  Afraid of the unknown.  Afraid.

This is also why some of these Old Testament stories are great.  They’re quite universal.  We are still afraid today.

Some of us are afraid of Muslims.  Some of us are afraid of going bankrupt. Some of us are afraid of dying.  Some of us are afraid of being labelled a failure.  Some of us are afraid for our safety.  Some of us are afraid of not having enough money to retire.  Some of us are afraid of losing our jobs.  Some of us are afraid that Christianity will lose its perceived influence.  Some of us are afraid that we’re not doing enough good in this world.  Some of us afraid of our futures.

This is universal.   It’s okay.  We’re all afraid of something.

Now, satistically speaking, we live in the best time in the history of the world.  Most of us in Canada are going to have the highest quality of lives every available to humans, ever, and what do we with that?  We buy cell phones for our children in elementary school because of safety concerns.

I read recently that in some schools, one quarter of kids in grade 4 have cell phones.  In every instance, the parent cited safety as the primary reason to get one.  I told this stat to a bunch of teenagers, and they all laughed.  “Of course we told our parents we needed cell phones for our safety.  We knew that was our best chance of getting one!”

We are afraid.  How we’re afraid may look different to each of us, but we are afraid.

I’m going to say two things about being afraid.

Number one.  We are not allowed to put our own safety before that of others while claiming we follow Jesus.  No.  Can’t do it. I know why we do it, because who doesn’t want to be safe?  But when we use the excuse of our safety to deny the opportunity to love of others, we are not following Jesus.  Putting your own security and safety before the well-being of others is something that Jesus didn’t say.

Can you imagine Jesus not talking to some people because he was afraid of them?  Or not healing them?  Or not having supper with them? Or not hanging out with them?  Or not living with them?  He did his ministry with enemy soldiers and violent revolutionaries and sex workers and tax collectors and foreigners and people with communicable diseases, and never once cited his safety as a concern.

And he ended up on a cross, while loving and forgiving the people who were killing him.  We shouldn’t act surprised, because this is exactly what Jesus invites his followers to.

If taking up our cross to follow Jesus doesn’t mean to embark upon a life that risks suffering, loss and even death, then what does it mean? (Brian Zahnd).

Doing to others as you would have them do to you does not include any clauses about risk and safety.

So we do not get to say that we are putting our trust in Jesus and then put our own welfare before that of others.

That means that we open our doors to refugees.

That means that open our doors to Muslims.

That means that we don’t talk poorly of others in our coffee shop conversations.

That means we don’t spread falsehoods and on Facebook and fact  check any pictures we share.

That means we don’t advocate violence against others.

That means we don’t blame helping others for health care wait times or tax rates or housing availability.

Jesus asks us to take up a cross.  Surely, then, we shouldn’t be surprised when we actually have to do so.

Do to others as you would have them to unto you.

Number 2:

We all have our own fears, anxieties, our own doubts, sin… Our own issues.  But when we don’t acknowledge them, and seek healing for them, what we end up doing is projecting them onto a different person, or a different group.  It’s called scapegoating, and it is evil.  As soon as we scapegoat another group,  as soon as we blame another group, as soon as we name ourselves as better than someone else, or more deserving than someone else, then ever so slightly we open the door to bullying, exclusion, racism, violence, genocide, and crucifixion.  If you want to see the devil work wonders in our world, check out all the scapegoating.   When we say that we’re just being safe, we have to help those at home first, that they’re different than us so they wouldn’t fit in, it is the Devil masquerading as an angel of light.

When we hear someone blame another group for something, chances are that it’s a form of scapegoating.

Have we been paying attention for the past few months?

We’ve scapegoated Muslims.

We’ve scapegoated refugees.

We’ve scapegoated Syrians.

And we in the church are equally to blame.  We have a long and proud history of scapegoating other groups.  We love circling the wagons and creating enemies and getting everyone riled up and afraid.

We’ve scapegoated other religions.

We’ve scapegoated other denominations.

We’ve scapegoated sexual minorities.

We’ve scapegoated political parties we disagree with and people who don’t vote like us.

We’ve scapegoated people who don’t believe the same doctrine as us.

As Canadians, are we able to learn from our own history?

We’re turning 150 years soon.  And in those years,

We’ve scapegoated Jews.

We’ve scapegoated Chinese.

We’ve scapegoated Japanese.

We’ve scapegoated Muslims.

We’ve scapegoated the French, the English, the Germans, the Irish, the Ukrainians, and the Mennonites.

We’ve scapegoated women.

And sweet mercy me have we every scapegoated First Nations people.

When we, as humans, are afraid, we have the capacity to do terrible things to others.

CBC has shut down the comments section on its website for articles on First Nations people because of the racist comments people were writing.

The Holocaust museum in New York issued a statement comparing the rhetoric around Syrian refugees to the rhetoric of Jewish refugees pre-World War II.  Pre-Holocaust, Canada only let in 5000 Jewish refugees, with one official even saying, “None is too many.”  The Holocaust killed 6,000,000 Jews.

When we are afraid, and when we blame other groups for our problems, we can do terrible things.

You may not have noticed, but almost every pronoun I have used this sermon is in the first person, using either “I” or “we.”  Why?  Because the first step to not scapegoating is to not use “us vs. them” language.  It’s hard, and it’s sloppy at times, but talking about others as “we” at least attempts to see our connection to others, and our own ability to make mistakes, whereas talking about “them” easily turns into “enemies.”

Now, back to the story of Ezra for a moment.  I am fully aware that me up here preaching to not be afraid doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re all going to go home not be afraid anymore.

Our text this morning tells us that despite their fears, Ezra and the Israelites kept building the temple.

And when they were done, they sang the following:

“God is good.  His love towards Israel endures.”

In this story, the Israelites had been kicked around, killed, and kidnapped for almost two centuries, and what are the words from their lips?

God is good.  His love endures forever.

They gathered together to remind themselves that even though they are afraid, there is a different story to listen to.  Sometimes we have to turn off the news, turn off social media, turn off the coffee shop banter… Sometimes we have to turn our heads a bit and listen real carefully.

God is good.  His love endures forever.

The story is there.  It’s always been there. We’ve heard it before.  Are we listening?

God is good.  His love endures forever.

Our story of Ezra ends with something unique.  It’s one of those parts of the story where they’re quite mature in writing down what actually happened.

Ezra and the people left Babylon, lived with their fears, remembered that God is good, and finally rebuilt the temple.  And when it was done, some of the people were letting out whoops of joy and excitement and acting like the Winnipeg Jets were back in town!

But others… they wept. They remembered what the temple was like, and realized that this temple, in comparison, stunk.

They realized that the future was not the past.

Similar to us, our future is not our past.

We don’t know how Canadians are going to respond to an increase in refugees and Muslims.

We don’t know who the Americans are going to elect President.

We don’t know what our current government is going to do, and what will happen again in 4 years.

We don’t know what our families are going to look like, what our jobs will be like, what our church will be like, what our country will look like.

All that we know, it that the future is probably not going to look like the past.

That’s what the Israelites realized all those years ago.  And that’s what we’re still realizing to this day.

As we all look to an unknown future, with all our own fears, are we listening?

Are we able to hear?

Are we able to trust?

Are we able to trust God?

Trust that God is with us?

O Come O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.

Arms Dealers, High School English Debates, and Scrooge

Some thoughts on Advent, starting off in 2 Kings 22:1-10, 23:1-3.


 

The books of 1 and 2 Kings tell the stories of Israel’s kings.

On a very simple (but honest) level, they’re not that exciting to read.  They’re more or less lists which kings were good, which ones were bad, and how long they reigned for.  There’s not a lot of plot.  Not a lot of detail.  There is some, such as in this morning’s but usually our weekly church bulletin is longer than some of the description of the kings and their rules.

So, we heard the story of Josiah, here’s a brief summary of the few kings before him.

Hezekiah.  Good king.  Did some good reforms.  Wrote some prayers.

Manasseh.  Bad king.  Really bad king.  Even ended up sacrificing his son to other gods.

Amon.  Bad king.  Killed by his own people.

Josiah.  Good king. 8 years old when he became a king.

When I read these stories, I am once again reminded how these stories are from a really different time and a different place.  Can you imagine Justin Trudeau dying, and his son Xavier becoming Prime Minister?  I think this would be one of those things where we call agree that he just wouldn’t be ready.

While I’m sure he had a few advisors, here’s Josiah, running the kingdom as an 8 year old.   And one of the things he does is that he orders the temple to be restored.  5 decades of bad kings had left the temple in disarray.

And lo and behold, they find a book.

Scholars debate what the book was, but most agree that it was some form Deuteronomy, but they can’t agree on which chapters it was.  But that doesn’t matter all that much to us today.

We’ll just go with, “Josiah found part of the Bible that had been neglected for about 50 years.”  And then Josiah had it read to him, and then to the entire kingdom, and they all agreed to listen to the it and get back on track.  I can’t imagine an 8 year old getting excited about Deuteronomy, let alone an entire kingdom, but whatever.  Different time and place, I guess.

The king, the elders, the priests, the prophets, the people… they all woke up to the word of the LORD and tried to follow God with all their heart and soul.

The word of God was once again with the people.

This book changed them.  It refocused their attention to God, and God’s intentions of peace for the world.  Peace with God, peace with others, peace with self, and peace with the Earth… Everything being in right relationship with each other.  Justice for all.

Justice for all…

Sometimes, it’s kind of hard to imagine justice for all these days, isn’t it?

Pope Francis, whom I consider an honourary Mennonite, had some sobering words for the world last week.

He said, “We are close to Christmas. There will be lights, there will be parties, bright trees, even Nativity scenes – all decked out – while the world continues to wage war.

It’s all a charade. The world has not understood the way of peace. The whole world is at war,” Pope Francis said. “A war can be justified, so to speak, with many, many reasons, but when all the world as it is today, at war, piecemeal though that war may be—a little here, a little there—there is no justification.”

“What shall remain in the wake of this war, in the midst of which we are living now?  What shall remain? Ruins, thousands of children without education, so many innocent victims, and lots of money in the pockets of arms dealers.”

“We should ask for the grace to wee for this world which does not recognize the path to peace. To weep for those who live for war and have the cynicism to deny it.. God weeps, Jesus weeps”.

Justice for all…

Let’s go back to the story of Josiah.  50 years of evil, and then an encounter with the Word of God changes them.  They wake up, pay attention, repent, get back on track, and remember how to live as God’s children in this world.  It’s a movement towards faithfulness and justice.  That once Josiah and the people woke up, they realized that there was another way to live.

I think Advent can be a similar time for us. Not that we’re necessarily doing evil for the past 50 years, but it serves as a time where an encounter with the Word of God changes us.  Especially because it’s a season where we anticipate the word becoming flesh, a babe, born in a manger.  We wake up, we pay attention, we repent, we get back on track, and we remember how to live as God’s children in this world.  Advent can be a movement towards faithfulness and justice, and a new way to live.

And the ways we do this are really only limited by our own imaginations.

This new way to live means that we buy items to make MCC hygiene kits.  Arianna is in kindergarten, so she’s only beginning to understand that not everyone in the world has toothbrushes and toothpaste and soap.  So we told her that every Monday, when we go to Sobeys to buy our food, we’re going to buy some toothbrushes for kids who don’t have any.   She quickly reminded me that if we were going to buy toothbrushes, we definitely needed to buy toothpaste too.

And so, every Monday, as part of us turning towards God and seeking justice, we’re buying toothbrushes and toothpaste.  And Zach loves it, because he just gets to brush his teeth in the shopping cart, package and all.

(Click here for more info on MCC hygiene kits)

In terms of gift giving, Ash and I started something years ago.  We noticed that we loved our grandparents, but they weren’t exactly in the market for more things.  Actually, the past 10 years have been all about them downsizing.  And so, once again, as part of us turning towards God and seeking justice, we head off to Ten Thousand Villages and buy an MCC living gift.  This year, given the large number of refugees in the world, we were grateful for the chance to buy food for families in refugee camps.  And sorry Grandpa… you now know what you’re getting for Christmas from us.

(Click here for more info on MCC Christmas Giving)

And hey… speaking of refugees. I wasn’t here last Sunday, but I heard it was announced that we’re sponsoring a family of 8 from Syria.  Talk about rearranging our lives because of justice.

I want to tell you a story about this.

We have a really great group of teenagers who come to youth, and love serving in Pauingassi, but for a variety of reasons, they’re not here on Sunday mornings.  But they all say that they’re Gracers, and fiercely claim this church as their own.

On Tuesday, one of the told me that he had gotten into a debate in his English class about whether or not Canada should accept Syrian refugees.  He was quite frustrated with one of his classmates, who was threatening to leave town if some Syrians showed up because she feared her own safety, and with a bit of a smirk, he said, “Well, pack your bags, because my church is bringing some over.”

Obviously, being so antagonistic (and a tad malicious) might not have been the wisest course of action, but I really do love that this Advent, we are preparing our lives by preparing to welcome a refugee family. In all of the Christmas paegents and carols and nativity scenes, we often forget that shortly after his birth, Jesus and his parents were Middle Eastern refugees, looking for a safe place to live.

(Email me at kyle.grace@mts.net if you want to know how to help with refugee resettlement).

Justice for all.

But Advent is also a time for inner reflection.  Justice is important, but, as wiseman Mel has taught me, how we live on the outside is usually a reflection of who we are on the inside.

The past several weeks, I’ve been paying attention to my feelings.  And I haven’t always been excited about what’s lurking underneath.  I’ve noticed my frustration over people continuing to choose violence.  I definitely had a period of rage over peoples fear of Muslim refugees.  I am/was angry at people choosing to put their own perceived safety and security before those of people fleeing war.  I’ve also noticed my cynicism towards all these outward expressions of generosity that seem to only appear at Christmas time (like how everyone wants to volunteer at Christmas but not on July long weekdend).   I know.   I can be a bit of a Scrooge.

But if I actually stop and think about my cynicism and anger and grumpiness, I can’t exactly say that that’s a great place to be.  It’s not a very life giving place.

How in the world can I seek justice in the world without attending to own heart?  Do I want to volunteer on July long weekend?  (The answer to that is NO.)

I’m reminded of this haunting line from Thomas Merton:

“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”

O Come O Come Emmanuel, right?

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Oh man, do I ever need little baby Jesus to come and put my heart on the right path…. To disperse the gloomy clouds of night.

When we pay attention to the story, when we pay attention to the word made flesh, it exposes our need for a better way.

Advent prepares our hearts by encountering the word of God, the story of Jesus, and being changed by it.

Instead of cursing the darkness, Advent invites us to light a candle.

Much grace and peace to us all this Christmas season as we walk the path of justice, for it’s on that road that we will find our freedom.

Dinosaurs, Pulpits, and Wedding Vows

A sermon based on the book of Hosea.


God tells Hosea that he should go marry a sexually promiscuous woman and have children with her, because that is going to be a good metaphor for Israel being unfaithful to the Lord.

And so, Hosea logged into his favourite internet dating website, and updated his profile:  Single, Jewish, prophetic, Middle Eastern male.  6 feet tall, likes camping and travelling.  Looking for a wife to go on adventures with and to grow old with.  Oh.  And must be willing and able to be unfaithful to me, because God said marry someone like that.

Ding! Match found!

And lo and behold, he married Gomer.

Yeah.  Okay then.  We have a lot of work to do with this text this morning.

Number 1.  I know someone who is working to help young women get out of the sex trade.  I asked her whether the term prostitute is still the proper terminology.  She said that they use the term “sex worker”, so I’m going to roll with that.  God tells Hosea to marry a sex worker.  Because that sounds so much better, right?

Number 2.  I’m going to venture to say that most of us don’t excited about reading the Old Testament.  I can fully admit that it’s over ten years since I last opened the book of Hosea.  Here at Grace we’re following a four year preaching plan that encourages us to preach out of the Old Testament every fall, so then when I actually read the text I’m supposed to preach on, I’m reminded again why I don’t read the Old Testament all that often.  Some of the stories we find in there are violent, sexist, and don’t always make a lot of sense.  And to make things worse, it seems to be God ordaining the violence and sexism.

So, for example, let’s take this story of Hosea and Gomer.

Why is the male portrayed as the faithful one, and the female portrayed as the unfaithful one?  I mean, sure, she was unfaithful, and with a lot of men, but all those men were just as unfaithful as she was.  I mean, if she slept with one hundred men, why can’t men be the example of unfaithfulness?  If those men were married, why can’t their wives be the symbols of faithfulness?    Why is it that women are almost always cast in the negative light in the Old Testament, as representing temptation and seduction and unfaithfulness, when clearly we know that men manipulate and philander just as much as women.

Well, here’s what I do to help me with some of this tension.

The Bible is the heir of patriarchy and sexism, not the creator of patriarchy and sexism (adapted from Carole Fontaine).  This part of the Bible was written about 3000 years ago in a sexist, patriarchal society, so of course it’s going to be sexist and patriarchal.  It was written in a specific time period to a specific people in a very specific context, so of course all those factors will influence the text.  To expect otherwise is almost unfair to the text.

So, when reading some of these sexist texts in the Old Testament, I try to move beyond the gender specific nature of it all.  I simply acknowledge that the culture was different than ours, so to me it doesn’t matter which partner was the faithful one, and which was the unfaithful one.  There was simply infidelity in that relationship, and I don’t care which one was the sex worker and which one wasn’t.  It’s not a perfect solution, but I feel it’s a good start.

But this leads to another question.

Number 3 – What would you do if your friend, child, parent, cousin, or any one close to you, said “God told me to marry a sex worker so our marriage can be an example of God being faithful to people who are unfaithful.”

You probably wouldn’t rush to put a down payment on a catering service, would you?

In the last few weeks, I asked a few of you the question, “What would you do if God asked you to marry a sex worker?  Most of you were silent.  Some of you laughed. One of you said you would disobey God.  And another one of you said, “Well, that’s why you’re the pastor.”  Gee… Thanks.

And if Hosea stopped by the office and asked me to officiate at his wedding, I’d say, “Ummm… Sorry.  I have to go pick up my kid from kindergarten right aways. But I’m sure Mel here would love to help you out.”

But here we are.  God told Hosea to marry a sex worker.  Well, if the God that made the universe told you to marry a sex worker, I guess I can’t argue with that, can I?   Kind of that like when preachers claim God told them something, or when teenagers claim God told them to break up with their boyfriends.  Just can’t argue with God, can you?

Okay, try something here.

Let’s start with the idea that all language for God is metaphor.

Metaphor:  something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.

So, if I’m at work and Mel asks me a question about his computer, I mighteef227dfb4e1c1b27 say, “Uhhh… Mel, you’re such an ancient dinosaur.”

Now, I’m not saying that Mel is an actual dinosaur, although, that would be cool, and maybe look something like this, but what I’m actually saying is that Mel might not be the most computer savvy person out there.

And if I call Mel an ancient dinosaur, he might turn around and “Kyle, you’re such a squirrel.”   56d997dfb4e252b8

Not that I’m actually a small rodent that climbs trees, although that would be cool, and I might look something like this, but what he’s actually saying is that I have a short attention span and get distracted very easily.  (Like when I stopped writing this sermon and started googling how to put people’s faces on dinosaurs and squirrels. Apparently there’s an app for that.)

Metaphors.

All language for God is metaphor.  It’s our best attempt to describe God, but it will always only be an incomplete representation.  We do our best to describe God from our vantage points, and we use the best words that we have available to us, but we’re still going to be restricted by our language, culture, experiences, and viewpoints.

Let’s use this pulpit here as an example.  Wherever you are sitting, if I were to ask you to describe this pulpit, what you say?

Well, some of you who come to church regularly would say “It’s a wooden pulpit.”

Others of you who don’t come to church very often would say “It’s a brown podium.”

One of you might say, “It’s just a hunk of wood.”

And technically, you’d all be right.

If you were 4 feet tall, you’d say the pulpit was tall.  If you were 7 feet tall, you’d say the pulpit was small.  And you’d both be right.

If the people over here were to say “The colour is mocha cappuccino”, while the people over here would say, ”It’s brown with some white on it” both sides of the church could fight over whether there’s white there or not, but really, you’d both be right, because I taped a white paper on this side. (Let alone the person who is sitting back here and says “I see a shelf.”)

We do our best to describe things, to get a hold of things, to understand things, but we will never get the whole picture.  We’re all bound by language and culture and experiences and viewpoints.

All language for God is metaphor.

The only time in the Old Testament where God clearly names who God is, is when God appears to Moses as a burning bush.  And what does God say?

“I AM WHO I AM.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites.:  “I AM has sent me to you.”  Thanks God. That clears things up.  Why couldn’t you just name yourself Stephen. Or Justin. Or Tom.  Or Elizabeth.  Or, for all of us here who are French, Gilles.

But, even if all language for God is metaphor, that doesn’t mean that it’s entirely invalid. There’s still some truth there.

Any description of God, any doctrine, any creed, any statement of belief, any poem, any hymn… they’re all rooted in an encounter with the divine.  Someone, somewhere, had an experience with God and did their best to write it down.  And they wrote it down within the limits of their language, culture, experiences, and viewpoints.  So it’s limited, but that doesn’t make it entirely untrue.

Let’s use a wedding for example.  Weddings are supposed to be this sacred day where two people declare their love for each other.  And as part of planning the ceremony, I often ask the couple about wedding vows.

Our conversation usually goes like this:

“Let’s talk about wedding vows. What do you two want to say to each other?”

“Ummm… I don’t know.  What should we say?”

“Well, it’s your wedding. How do you want to express your love and commitment to each other in front of God and all your family and friends?”

“Ummm… I guess we’ll look something up on the internet.”

Now, some couples know what they’re going to say.  But, in my experience, most don’t, so they google it.

The love between these couples is real.  So real that they’re getting married.  But when asked to do their best to describe their love and commitment to each other, they got nothing.  And in the end, most of us all mumble some words that we don’t remember 10 years later, and then in order to show how serious we are about our love, we take two candles to light one as symbol, or we use some sand, or some other sort of metaphor.

Our words, our symbols, our language, for God are all limited, but they’re still rooted in an encounter with God.

I think this is why some of us just don’t like Hosea all that much. Or the Old Testament.  Or why some of us don’t like doctrinal statements about what we believe.  Or creeds written hundreds of years ago.  Or words said by Popes. Or books on theology.  Or sermons written and preached by pastors.  Or some songs or hymns or poems.  They’re all just words.  Words doing their best to describe an encounter with God.  But the goal should never be the words.  The goal should be the source of those words. The goal should be the God who encounters us. The goal is meeting “I AM.”

And, lucky for us, our Bibles don’t end in Hosea.  And they don’t end in the Old Testament.  Our Bibles seem to feature a guy named Jesus quite prominently.  They even say some pretty big things about him.

“Jesus is the image of the invisible God…..” – Colossians 1:15.

Jesus is what God has to say.

Now, this isn’t a sermon on Jesus, and we’ll be talking a lot more Jesus in January.  This is a sermon on Hosea and Gomer and faithfulness.

So what do I do with God telling Hosea to marry a sex worker so their marriage can be a metaphor for God’s faithfulness?

I say, “Okay… Okay.”  Hosea had an encounter with God.  We’ll never know what was actually said, how he heard God’s voice, or why he felt God calling him to marry a promiscuous woman.  I’ll disagree with some of the sexist overtures of the story, try to work for equality in our world today, but if all language for God is metaphor, and clearly Hosea understands metaphors here, then I’ll look to the source.  Which is God.

And this is a story of God’s faithfulness.  Of God never giving up on us.  Of God rooting for us. Of God wanting the best for us.

This is a story of God being with us, no matter how unfaithful we’ve been.

This is a story of a God who chooses not to smite us.

This is a story of a God whose love for us trumps any anger for us.

This is a story of a God whom we don’t have to fear. (So if someone says, “God’s wrath is storing up for humankind, just tell them to read Hosea.”)

Now.  There’s another metaphor in the book of Hosea.  Chapter 11. I didn’t know it was there until I had to preach on Hosea.  Buried way in the back, we find a metaphor of a parents love for their child.

It was I who taught (Isreal) to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.

Hosea 11:3-4

This is a metaphor about how we love our children, even when they don’t even know it. I hang out with Mel and Audrey and Betty, who all have adult children, and wow, do they ever still love their children.  Even if the kids are all over the place, doing their own things… even if they forget to call home some days… the love is still there.  With my own kids, there are days where I am so overwhelmed I want to put a paper bag on my end and go cry in the closet.  Or other days, I am really, really angry with them.  But in the end, love always wins, and all I want to do is hold them close and whisper in their ears, “Everything is going to be okay.  You are loved.”

In a world where we make mistakes, where we hurt people, where people don’t like us…. When we feel like we don’t belong, like we don’t measure up, that people are judging us… In a world that sometimes big and scary and we don’t know always know how we fit in…

We have a story.  A story about a God who is faithful and is filled with love for us.

And that’s a story that I can listen to, over and over again.

13.8 Billion Years, Mufasa, and Mennonite Migrations

Based on Deuteronomy 6, 4-9.  And I again screen shot my art work, so please do your best.


Let’s start with a timeline, and let’s start over here. The world is 13.8 billion years old, plus or minus 0.04%.

And that is a really cool number, isn’t it?  I mean, how often do we get to write down the number 13.8 billion?

Okay.  photo 1

And the moving on to our timeline, around the 16th century BCE, we have the story of Moses and Exodus.  You may know it, where there are a bunch of slaves and then Moses says “Let my people go!”, and then some frogs and gnats come, and Moses leads them out of Egypt.  Of course scholars can’t agree on when it actually happened, or what actually happened, but that’s okay.  For today’s purpose, we’ll just roll with the 16th century BCE.

And then, after wandering around in the desert for 40 years, we have the Israelites ready to enter the promised land, the land of milk and honey (aka:  Kleefeld).  They’re about to cross the threshold, put their names on paper, and move in.  It’s a big moment, and someone is probably putting a picture of it on Instagram.

And it’s here, before they go and create their new county, that we hear these words from Moses, telling the people that they are to love God with all their heart and soul and strength, and that all these commandments are to be on their hearts, and that they’re supposed to tell their children about them.  Not going too much into specifics, he’s telling them to do what they have to do to remember their history, remember their laws, remember their community, remember their God, and pass it on to you their children.

But here’s the thing about the book of Deuternomy.  It was probably written down and compiled on paper, as we read it, about 1000 years after Moses said the words.

And knowing that little piece of information is really, really, important.

Why?

Here, I’ll use a map to make this as easy as possible to understand.

The Israelites are slaves here.  Moses leads them out.  photo 2

They wander around here for 40 years, eating quail and manna and grumbling.

And then they’re about to enter the promised land here.

And then they set up a kingdom, and sometimes they’re great, and other times, they’re not.  And very quickly they hold a national referendum on national unity (we Canadians know all about this), and they split into two kingdoms.  And then each was doing their own thing for a while.  But then the big bad Assyrians came from here and obliterated the North Kingdom, and then a little while later the Babylonians came and obliterated the Southern Kingdom, and took all the people to live in exile back to Babylon.  And it was here, in Babylon, 1000 years after Moses, that they most likely wrote down Deuteronomy as we knows it.

This is really, really, really important to know because writing down their stories about God, their rules, their history, was all about preserving their identity.  It was about them remembering who they are.  It was here, in exile, where they became a “people of the book.”

“Who are we? No, we’re not Babylonians.  We’re Israelites.  We believe in one God, who is mighty to save.  This God beat the Egyptian God.  He’ll beat the Babylonian Gods.  He’s mighty to save.  We were once a mighty kingdom.  And when we are again, we’ll remember how we ruled.”

2316630-2873515759-MufasYou can actually think of the Lion King here, where Mufasa is telling Simba, “Remember who you are.”  It works as a great analogy.  Remember who you are.

They’re writing about the past to explain the present.  How did we end up here?  Well, there’s a story to that, and we are not going to forget it.    Because how we live now is because of our story.

How we live now is because of our story. 

Remember who you are.

I’m going to take a bit of a leap now and speak to our present.

I know we’re in an election, and we’re all getting a little tired of all the election signs, but over the past two months, a lot has been said about refugees, immigrants, Muslims, security, and minorities.   So let’s talk about how our stories shape how we live now.

And I’m going to speak of our present stories in 3 different ways, as Canadians, as Mennonites, and as Christians.

  1. Let’s start with Canada. What’s the story of Canada?  Well, remember who you are.   Unless you are First Nations, someone in your family was an immigrant.  Possibly even a refugee.  Even if we go as far back as we can, someone came across that ocean.  My own story, I can trace my Mennonite side back to one of the founding families of Steinbach, and we even have a bench at the corner of Kroeker and Main.  And my French side, well the first Saurette came over from France to fight the English, (he obviously didn’t have a good security check done), and he married a woman who had been in New France since 1650, and her family was one of the first several thousand immigrants to New France.  I have deep roots in this place called Steinbach, I have deep roots in this place called Canada, but, somewhere, somehow, in all of our histories, some people moved here from somewhere else.

Remember who you are. Remember your own story.  Tell your children.  We were immigrants.

  1. Mennonites mapLet’s go with Mennonites.  Some of you will know more than I do, but I typed Mennonite Migrations into a Google Image Search, and I came with this. (It’s in Spanish. Sorry.  Unless you speak Spanish.  They enjoy)  From Switzerland and Holland to Prussia to Ukraine to Russia to Canada and Paraguay and Mexico.  Sometimes we moved with lots of money.  And other times we moved without lots of money. Sometimes we had good working relationships with local people and government.  Other times, not so much.  But our history is one filled with us being immigrants, us fleeing violence and persecution, us seeking safety, us being refugees, and finding a safe place to live.

Remember who you are.  Remember your own story.  Tell your children.  We were immigrants.  We were refugees.

  1.   Early in their story, the Israelites remembered that they were slaves once:   “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)   And then we have the early church writing down the words of Jesus, “Whatever you did for the least of these sisters and brothers of mine, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25:40)   And there are these great stories in our history of Christians where they helped people unlike them, such as French Christians risking their lives to shelter Jews during the Holocaust.  But we also have these painful stories of Christians forgetting to care for the least of these, such as the crusades or owning slaves.  Telling both the good stories and the bad stories shapes how we live.

Remember who you are.  Remember your own story.  Tell your children.  We follow a God who loves everyone and invites us to do the same.  We follow a God who claims us as beloved children, whether we’re deserving of that title or not.

Remember who you are.  Remember your own story.

Two weeks ago, here at Grace we had our first information meeting about our church sponsoring another refugee family.   I had set up chairs for 20 people.  43 of us showed up.  Plus a whole bunch of you emailed us saying that you couldn’t be there but wanted to help.  When I think of that meeting, I still smile in gratitude.   And our second meeting is on Wednesday, and the MCC refugee coordinator is going to be there, as we begin to move from information to action.

After the first meeting, I had a conversation with one of you.  You were one of the younger ones there, under the age of 60.  And you told me how, at the meeting, you look with awe and respect at some of the less young people, the ones over the age of 60, who had been helping sponsor refugees for the past 30 years.  And this led you to think of your place here at Grace, and how you can continue the work that we’ve been doing all these years.

Ahh… my heart melted.  This is a story of us remembering who we are.  This is a story of us remembering our own story.  This is us knowing that our own story shapes how we live now.

I don’t think that one of my sermons would be complete without me quoting the Franciscan Father, Richard Rohr.  So to wrap up, especially since it’s Thanksgiving weekend, here is something for us to share at the dinner table over turkey and pumpkin pie.  Someone once asked him, “What’s the point of life?”  And he replied “To give back that which we have received.”

The point of life is to give back that which we have received.

Remember your story.  Remember who you are.

Grace and Peace.

Amen.