April 5, 2015 / EASTER SUNDAY
Luke 24,1-8 and John 20, 14-18
Life in the Face of Death — Salvation?
Startle us, O God, with your truth,
the truth that Christ is risen
and that love is stronger than death.
We come here this morning
as the women came to the tomb,
with our uncertainties, our doubts and fears,
and with our hope and our love.
Startle us with the truth of the resurrection
and renew our hope, our love and our courage
in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.
Jesus Christ is risen today!!! Halleluiah.
When it comes to Joy or as one of our communion prayers says “light, life, and love in the world”,
we celebrate more heartily today than any other occasion in the Christian year.
While Christmas struggles every year
to rise out of the tacky quagmire
of gifts people do not need ,
and bills we cannot easily pay;
Easter, even though fraught with bunnies and Easter eggs, has remained, for Christians at least,
an unadulterated opportunity, the real thing;
and its probably the only intentional time
in our entire lives
when we actually contemplate what death means. We experience the death of loved ones
and those around us,
we experience their loss and we grieve.
But that’s a different thing than contemplating the meaning of death in our lives.
Today is about life,
it’s about death,
but most importantly
it’s about life in the face of death.
It’s about salvation.
Salvation is one of those Christian words
that we use all the time.
It’s like redemption and grace.
Yet even though salvation is supposed to describe the most important goal in any of our lives,
we often don’t know what it means,
especially in the context of our own lives.
And this is very important.
Salvation is contextual.
That means: it takes a different form for each one that needs it or receives it.
It depends upon circumstance,
and that’s possibly why it’s so poorly understood.
Let me begin this morning by saying that nobody, nooobody, there is no-one,
no person but you yourself
that can tell whether you’ve been saved or not.
Salvation can be measured only from the inside out. There are external signs of course,
but they are secondary, and only the outward manifestation of a much more profound reality;
a reality that in medieval terms
was described as “Union with God”.
The only thing that any of us
can truly know about salvation
is the experience that we ourselves have had.
And so all that I have to offer you
is my own experience of salvation
in the light of an education that teaches me
how to express myself in God-language,
and the accumulated experience of pastoring
to the many individuals I have had the privilege
to connect with at that level.
And what I can tell you is that;
no matter how great the Terror, or Despondency,
or how great the distance felt by alienation,
no matter how dark or lost we ever feel,
the embrace of God is waiting for you
with all the warmth and safety
of the womb from which you emerged.
This is not just probable or likely,
but; this is as certain as the rising of the sun.
Read: Luke 24: 1-8
Early in the morning on the first day of the week the women went to the tomb.
They were carrying spices
that were used for embalming.
Because of the Sabbath preparations, they had been unable to properly prepare Jesus' body for burial. They were going back to finish the task.
They knew what to expect.
They had seen his battered and wounded body removed from the cross.
They had helped to place him lovingly in the tomb. They had watched in horror
as the stone had been rolled across the entrance.
Many had run away in fear
during the events of the past few days.
But these faithful women
had remained through it all.
They had seen his death with their own eyes.
They had stood at the foot of the cross.
They had heard him breathe his last breath.
And they knew that the body decays
and that no power of nature can change that.
They were silent as they approached the tomb;
each one mourning in their own way.
They were intent on doing what had to be done. They didn’t notice the garden
with its beautiful flowers.
They didn’t notice
the joyful chorus of the birds singing in the trees.
They felt only that terrible, lonely emptiness
that sets in when one you love has died.
And then suddenly nothing made sense.
They came to the tomb;
the stone was rolled away.
They stooped and entered the narrow doorway expecting to find the body lying in the chamber, wrapped in linen cloths.
But once again they didn’t find what they expected. There was no body.
Instead, two men in dazzling clothes said to them, "Why are you looking for the living
among the dead?"
The words cut through to their very soul.
We don’t always see what’s real,
because what we see is processed through our conscious and unconscious mind.
But mirrors reflect exactly what they see.
They reflect only what is there.
Some of us don’t like to admit that.
But you know, what a mirror reflects is the reverse of what is really happening. Think about it.
If you stand in front of a mirror and wave your right hand, which hand waves back?
It is your left hand waving at you, isn't it?
That becomes really confusing if you go into a hall of mirrors. There the image is reversed,
or distorted in some way.
There are so many mirrors
angled at one another that we become unclear about what we are really seeing.
That is where the difficulty lies.
We begin to lose track of what is real
and what is just an image.
We lose our own sense of reality,
our moorings as they say.
There we stand, lost, bumping into what seems real only to discover that it is only a reflection.
We don’t know where to turn.
We keep wondering which image is real.
We almost panic until we begin to move slowly enough to sort out the reality.
Life is backward.
Nothing can be presumed.
Every direction needs to be tested.
Left could very well be right.
Backward may well be forward.
At any rate, we must never presume
that anything is as it appears.
Only then, when we begin to trust our instincts,
do we find our way out of the maze.
The gospel reflects life in reverse.
Slavery is freedom.
Poverty is wealth.
Death is life.
It reverses many principals
that our experience says is true.
Like existence, life does not end in death.
Death ends in life.
Resurrection is a reality.
It is not a two thousand year old event.
It is a principle.
It is the way God works.
Several weeks ago I talked about the modern view of the cosmos and theoretical physics. One of the aspects of that branch of science is string theory,
(which I remember from very old episodes
of Star Trek, but is quite real)
string theory predicts the possibility of eleven,
not three, but eleven dimensions.
“it is not an easy thing to accept a reality that is beyond our experience”.
But that is what we are learning to do ever since Einstein proved that time is elastic.
Like the women heading to the tomb,
there are times in our lives
when we find ourselves going into places
where we expect to find only death.
And we find instead .....
We need to check out each situation to find the reality in it all. We need to ask:
In each dying in our lives, where is the resurrection? In the dying of our planet threatened with extinction, where is the resurrection?
In the death of the church as we see fewer and fewer people in our society living the life of faith,
where is the resurrection?
When a marriage fails, where is the resurrection? When someone in our community is abused,
where is the resurrection?
In the sickness and suffering of a soul mate,
where is the resurrection?
Read: John 20: 14-18
Do I really believe that Christ rose from the dead?
What I know is that I have had an experience like Paul’s. Not nearly as dramatic I must say,
but certainly of the same nature.
These experiences are born of life-changing crises,
and on one hand I wouldn’t wish a crisis upon anyone; but, on the other hand
we all know that crisis is an integral part of life
and so I guess what I’m saying is
when the crisis arrives
be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit
within that most uncomfortable space.
What ought to happen in my life if I really believe? How do I demonstrate in my life
that Christ is alive and that his saving grace
and abundant life
are available to every human creature?
Back we go to the hall of mirrors.
It was by moving slowly,
checking every step,
never presuming which was the right way,
that we found our way out of the maze.
Only when we move slowly,
never presuming that our way is God's way,
only then will we furtively make our way out of the maze called life into the joy of the resurrection.
Nothing can be certain except our hope, which is the first and essential step toward resurrection.
What are the signs of resurrection in our lives? Belief in resurrection is the greatest sign.
Belief that Jesus was able to leap that great chasm we call Death to land on the other side as the Christ who is present to us here this morning.
The women at the tomb saw and believed.
They told others, “Christ is risen!”
They also came to believe.
They in turn passed it on
to generation after generation.
“Christ is risen!” they shouted.
Each generation over the following twenty
centuries have answered, “He is risen indeed!”
We are still asking one another,
“What do you believe?”
And still millions of people respond,
“Christ is risen!
We are part of the Body of Christ”
I am asking you today, “What do you believe?”
Whether or not you respond,
“Christ is risen!” is up to you.
But as you sit here this morning you are part of Christ’s Body in the world;
even if only for this brief hour.
I believe that Christ is risen! Alleluia!
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario
April 12, 2015 / Easter 2
Acts 4: 32 ff & John 20: 19 ff
The Scary Side of Compassion
The scary side of compassion is that
risk we need to take to extend a hand
to someone we don’t know.
It is the risk we take when we ask
someone obviously in need,
if there is anything that we can do.
It is the risk we take when we enter
someone else’s world.
Compassion as we have said recently is to suffer with; and, so by definition to offer compassion
is to accept that burden and take that risk.
The place we go when we offer compassion to another cannot be reconnoitered, cannot be scouted out a head of time.
The place we go with them is individual to the time and the place and the person.
This can be scary as hell.
A number of years ago I was privileged to accompany about a hundred
Grade 10 students from the local high school
on a roller coaster ride that they won’t soon forget, even the most skeptical of them.
During the orientation for facilitators that took place first, I was, I must admit not only filled with apprehension but with skepticism as well.
They told us that we were going to participate in an active way that took me completely out of my comfort zone.
Believe me there were dance moves involved here that I had never even contemplated let alone tried.
This event was a compressed exposure to the inner life being lived by the others in the school.
It was an instantaneous glimpse
for each participant of what it means to be
the others in the school community.
It was a glimpse into how many of the core aspects of wholesome community behaviour affect any community’s quality of life.
These were all grade 10 students.
There were about a hundred of them
at each of two daylong events.
There simply is not the time this morning
to go into detail but two very capable leaders succeeded in keeping their energy level up,
their interest focused
and they were almost without exception engaged.
They were encouraged and they were prodded
and they were shown examples,
and gradually they began to leave their own
comfort zones and risk someone else’s world.
Challenge Day helped these young people take the risks necessary for building community,
building relationships, and actually understanding that reconciliation, compassion, understanding,
and empathy, are what give life its richness.
And that all of those things contribute to the building blocks that make us who we are
through self-appreciation, self-recognition,
All of this though was only available through risk.
The meaning of our lives and the meaning in our lives is all founded upon the way we interact in community and the degree to which we contribute to the health of the body as a whole.
Just listen again to what Acts is calling for.
Listen to the way the early communities are described.
Feel the sense of security that flows
from the knowledge that your companions
in the faith are more than that.
They are your companions in life, every aspect of it. They are your family in every sense of the word.
Read Acts 4: 32 again
You know what it feels like
when it all comes together.
Well I’ve had one of those wonderful convergences recently while looking at Paul,
the ethos in which he functioned and his relationship to the Roman empire;
the cities of the Roman Empire, including their make-up, the urban density, design and so on.
Rome and to a lesser degree all of the urban centers of the Roman Empire were so densely packed that we have difficulty imagining it.
The closest comparison that I can offer you easily are the huge slums of India and South America; where whole extended families live in a single room, and then that is multiplied floor after floor.
In roman times we were told that
they simply built the tenements as high
as they could until they collapsed and many did.
These desperately cramped souls were not living this way by choice but had for many different reasons been driven to the cities
the same way many of the worlds aboriginals
are by destruction of the habitat
that normally would sustain them.
Paul’s message of belonging,
of extending his reach across a cultural gap,
of universal equality within the Christian community obvious is that one of the most important aspects
of the explosively popular message
of compassion and of caring
that Paul was delivering.
The scary side of compassion,
which is suffering with
is the pain that accompanies
true understanding and empathy.
Jesus ministry of compassion led him to places fraught with enormous risk;
risk of alienating the religious authorities,
risk of alienating his own community
and their traditions,
risk of alienating the Romans who in the end
lost patience and did away with him
as the most expedient route
in their quest for order by any means.
Thomas’s doubt is a reflection of the doubt
that we all have.
Doubt about ourselves,
doubt about our circumstances
and doubt about God sometimes.
Very often our greatest doubts
are about our own ability to take the risks
involved in the ministry of compassion.
Doubt is a healthy companion.
Jesus ministry of compassion
contracted into a fearful little group of disciples afraid to take the risks involved in public ministry.
Their teacher had taught them to suffer with
and understand the poor and the distressed,
the sick and the desperately alone.
He had shown them the risks involved.
But he couldn’t make them do it.
Doubt is the necessary stepping stone
to a life of faith that will give you the courage
to risk suffering with others.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario.
April 19, 2015
On The Way to Emmaus
The High Road, The Low Road
“Take to the high road”,
“occupy the moral high ground”,
used to be maxims and politicians would
would at least try to give the impression
that’s what they were striving for.
In light of the recent behaviour
we have witnessed of those in power,
on all three levels it appears to me
that many would rather wade through the muck.
Honestly it seems to me
that if you have to make appoint of declaring
which road you’re on;
it is probably about showmanship.
The scripture readings lately,
actually those since Easter are usually the same,
and always have that sense to them
of visiting a familiar life in progress.
Rather like visiting Coronation Street
or Downton Abbey, off and on over the years.
Months can go by that you do not see it,
yet you can quickly catch up on the events
because in the story line, scarcely a day has gone by. It is three weeks since we first started to look at the post-resurrection experiences of the disciples,
but in our gospel today
it is just the evening of the same day.
Read Luke 24:13-35
On Easter evening, Cleopas and …
“could it have been Mary?”....
were heading back to their village.
It was about seven miles outside of Jerusalem,
but with the terrible events of the past three days the journey seemed endless to them.
Their hearts were heavy with sorrow.
Their dreams shattered,
they spoke together in quiet, hushed tones, possibly husband and wife sharing their sorrows.
Yet nothing they could say to one another
gave them any sense of relief.
They simply could not make any sense
of what had occurred.
And then a stranger joined them on the road.
They opened up to him,
sharing their grief and uncertainty.
It is amazing how easy it is sometimes
to open up to someone you have never seen before. This is a phenomenon I’ve closely watched
over the years.
about their deep longing for the Messiah,
about the hope that had filled them
when they had first met Jesus,
about the events of the past few days,
about the shattering of all their illusions.
“And now,” they told the stranger,
“he’s been dead for three days.
We were convinced that he was the Messiah,
but now we know that we were wrong.
And the stranger opened up the Scriptures to them.
“You think that because Jesus died like this he couldn’t possibly be the Messiah.
Haven’t you read what the prophets said
about the Messiah?”
“We have,” they answered feebly.
“Well then, why don’t you believe them?”
“What do you mean?” they asked him.
“Don’t you know that they foretold his death?
They said that it would be through suffering and death that he would attain glory.”
Then starting with Moses he went through all the passages of scripture that spoke about the Messiah. As they listened they gained a clearer understanding of the events. The journey became bearable.
Night fell as they arrived at their home in Emmaus. They invited the stranger to stay with them.
At supper he took bread, broke it,
and offered it to them.
and … In the breaking of the bread
he was a stranger no more.
In that familiar action – they knew
that it was Jesus sitting before them.
The one they had thought dead and gone
was with them – on their journey.
The trip back to Jerusalem to share the good news was accomplished in a flash.
Most of us have been on the road to Emmaus
at one time or another.
We have experienced the journey of these two disciples in some shape or form.
Some of us may be only too familiar with that road. Our own journey may have been one of failure, disappointment, sorrow, grief – shattered dreams and desperate loneliness.
We all need someone with whom
we can share the story of our journey.
Faith doesn’t save us from experiencing
dark and lonely stretches of road.
Sadly, it is often the times when we are
the most in need that faith seems to fail us.
Those times when we are plunged into despair
is no time to find out
that the lamp of faith has gone out.
It wasn’t until later that the two disciples realized that the one they thought was dead
was actually with them on the journey.
Can you relate to that?
I certainly can.
When we are going through a difficult time,
we lose our perspective, our bearings.
Anyone experienced in dealing with grief
will tell you that one of
the most recognisable symptoms is confusion.
In that state we are at a loss
about what to do,
about how to cope.
We feel totally alone and inadequate.
It is all we can do to simply cope day by day,
or even hour by hour.
Afterwards, perhaps even a long time after,
if we give ourselves the opportunity to reflect,
we realize that we were not alone on the journey, that after all Jesus was there with us on the road.
We may even be grateful
for what we learned in the experience.
We may realize that because of it
we are better people.
We may come to understand in some tangible way the message of the resurrection.
We may come to see the signs of resurrection
in our own lives.
No matter which road we’re on.
In turn we may become the companion on the way, to use Henri Nouwen’s phrase
the “wounded healers” of society.
We may be called upon
to deal with people who are hurting,
despite our own feelings of inadequacy.
We may discover within ourselves
resources and gifts we were unaware of.
After all, what it takes
is something that we all can attain to,
a listening ear and a generous heart.
If we learn to be good listeners
we may find people searching us out
to share their stories,
their road stories.
By listening and understanding
without judgement, without prejudice,
we share in the other person’s pain and sorrow.
We can help them to bear
the sometimes terrible burdens in their lives.
We help them to move on.
We help them to see
the signs of resurrection in their own lives.
The two disciples journeying to Emmaus
came to see Jesus with eyes of faith.
In the breaking of the bread
they recognized the Lord they had come to know,
to love and to serve.
As I often say it was in the
Sacramental sharing of the gifts of God
and of themselves
that the Disciples came face to face with Christ.
For us too it is a matter of seeing Jesus
with eyes of faith.
Scriptures are read and explained,
and hopefully made relevant in our lives.
We come to the table.
We share in the family meal.
Bread is broken and distributed. The cup is passed.
Through word and sacrament
we are brought into the presence of Christ.
We know him in the breaking of the bread.
The hospitality we seek to know
and to offer and to receive is of God.
This bread is meant for giving.
The lesson of the road to Emmaus is
that when we offer hospitality
and truly engage the stranger;
that it is in the breaking of the bread,
that it is in the sharing of God's gifts,
that Christ is truly present to us.
It is a sacramental sharing.
The hospitality itself is the sacrament.
The difference between our usual attitudes
and the one we encounter on the high road is the sacramental nature of the sharing of ourselves.
And it’s in that sharing that the bread is broken and the crumbs get scattered.
We are an Easter people.
We experience signs of resurrection in our lives.
At the end of communion
we are sent out into the world
to love and to serve God.
We go out to share what has happened
on our Emmaus road.
We go out to spread the good news.
We break the bread of life with others.
We proclaim Christ.
Others recognize the risen Christ in our lives.
Their eyes are opened.
They move forward towards wholeness
on which ever road they choose.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church Brantford in
April 26, 2015 (Easter 4B)
We Are The New Shepherds
When I was a child we went to St. Andrew’s
United in Niagara Falls. It was a church not
unlike this one and built in the late 1800s.
It was a downtown church, sitting next to the
Post Office just off Queen Street. In the boom
of the mid-fifties the Post office badly needed
to expand and so a committee of wily old Scottish
negotiators extracted a great price from the Federal Government and the church moved to the suburbs.
One of the things we took along with us to the new church was a stained glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd.
I can see it in my mind to this day. And I can remind myself of it in most United Churches that have any stained glass remaining.
What is it about God and or Jesus as the
Good Shepherd that will save us from WANT?
In a day and age where two thirds of humanity live in want of proper nutrition,
or in want of any kind of regular health care,
or in want of peace and security from violence,
or in want of justice and the prospect
that their dignity will remain intact
when they interface with authorities of any kind;
how will the Good Shepherd save us from WANT?
This Gospel Lesson this morning
is a wonderful and familiar passage –
the imaging of Christ as the loving shepherd
and the source of abundant life.
The abundant life though isn’t just given to us.
It isn’t a condition that God creates for us –
this is not a passive experience.
The abundant life – the world without Want
is found in the life of the early Christian communities were everything was shared.
The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall not WANT, because my destiny, my future and my welfare are bound up in the Holy and Sacred
communal relationships that I have
with all the other children of God that surround me.
The bond between you and I includes God
and if we live up to that divinity in our relationships there will be no more want because the scarcity is shared
and the distress is supported in common.
The shepherd leads the sheep into saving shelter and then the sheep go out and find pasture.
How do we understand that?
Does part of our nurturing lie in life
outside the church – out in the wider world?
In camping settings for example that we talk about this morning –
Of course it does.
Read: John 10: 1-10
The early Christians struggled with what it meant
to be a follower of Christ;
they never intended to become a new faith.
They were Jewish.
They were called the Nazarenes.
Their link to the synagogue and their Jewish roots were a strong part of their identity.
When the Jewish community
became hostile toward this new sect,
they had to struggle against persecution.
They were enthusiastic in their proclamation
and desire to share the gospel message.
They understood their vocation to be continuing
to spread the Good News that Jesus brought
about the immanence of Gods kingdom.
Now our society can certainly understand
the need for identity,
and the things I’m about to say about identity have implications for those we experience as the body of Christ in the world.
Identity is of the utmost importance to us today
as it has always been.
It colours the way we think of others.
We identify people by the way they speak,
by the clothing they wear,
by the colour of their skin.
People tend to choose friends who are like them in appearance, in the way they think,
in the way they act.
It can be very difficult to break into a group
with an identity differing from one's own.
What identifies us as Christians?
What sets us apart as a community?
Do we have a profile?
Each time we baptise people
here at Sydenham Street United Church
I will be reminding you or those here assembled that what we are about here;
is providing for the one being baptised
an identity in Christ.
Surely if we consider ourselves
to be distinct as Christians then there should be distinguishing characteristics in our lives, characteristics which set us apart from the world and make being a Christian different.
The good shepherd passage
from the Gospel of John points out
what some of those characteristics ought to be.
For one thing we need to belong.
"You do not believe because you do not belong," Jesus says, to the people
who confront him about who he is.
They want to know if he is the Messiah.
They want an easy answer. A yes or no!
They don't want to struggle with who he is.
They don't want to take the time
to check it out for themselves.
They want him to plainly identify who he is
so that they can believe.
But Jesus tells them clearly
that believing is belonging
when it comes to one's relationship with God.
Part of our identity as Christians
is that sense of belonging to the community.
It is no accident that people come to church because they want to belong.
If ministry is to be effective then there must be
a strong sense of community which is
the underlying philosophy of Christian Camping.
That was the foundation of the early church
we heard in the reading from Acts recently;
their ethic of sharing their livelihood.
We may be well organized and efficient as a church; but if people are not made welcome
and given a sense that they belong,
our community will not survive.
If we are listeners then we will hear the voice of God, soft or loud, communicating with us.
Speaking to us through symbols of our faith. Speaking to us as we come to worship.
Speaking to us as we celebrate life.
Speaking to us at times of difficulty and despair. Speaking to us through our relationships to others.
Speaking to us through our sense of community.
And speaking to us through our dedication to SERVICE to community.
Those who belong are followers.
"My sheep hear my voice," Jesus says,
"and they follow me."
Following means serving God.
Serving others on God's behalf.
We serve God in our families and in our daily lives. We serve in the community,
we serve in the political
and economic struggles of our society.
Everytime you remind the politicians
that we entrust with the common good
that they will be measured not by advertising
but by those they have lifted from despair.
We serve wherever lost sheep
are struggling to find sustenance and
meaning and purpose in life.
Whatever we do, we try to live in the image of the Good Shepherd for those around us.
Sometimes we question
whether or not we really belong.
Sometimes we have trouble
hearing the voice of the shepherd.
Sometimes we wander away and do not follow.
But God continues to lead us beside the still waters, and to restore our souls.
To bring us back to that sense of belonging.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario