The Need to be Vulnerable
February 8, 2015 / Epiphany 3B
It is hard for most of us to believe that we could ever change the world that we live in – produce a revolution, a
mass repentance, or change of heart. And yet, if we look at history, in every century a few brave people have
believed just that, whether they could bring in the changes or not, it was their calling to try. We look at them
with reverence – almost as though they were not really ordinary human beings but the saints and martyrs of
One of the most obvious today is the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. – and his life as a spark that resulted in
the light we have seen all over the United States two weeks ago just before Black History Month began. The truth
is that they were, indeed, ordinary people with all the hopes and fears, the doubts and dreams that we experience.
And yet they acted, often into a vacuum of despair or apathy. Almost everything in this world that brings about profound and just changes, begins with one or two brave people who dared to leave what they had and follow their hearts and souls towards a different world. So where could we start?
God called on Jesus, and Jesus in turn called upon the four fishermen, or as we now would say the four fishers - Simon, Andrew, James, and John. He called upon them to leave what they were doing, and to follow him. He called them to leave the people and the tasks that made up their everyday lives and to enter into a new vision with him.
Read: Mark 1: 14-20
Jesus called Simon and Andrew as they were casting their nets into the sea, and the other two as they were mending theirs. Jesus called them while they were involved in the drudgery and the security of everyday life, and we’re no different than these four disciples, in that, we hear God call, if we are paying attention,
in the midst of the simplest and most mundane of tasks or events.
Three weeks ago we talked about listening, listening for God’s call in the midst of 21st century mind numbing background noise, about being invited,
and the transformation that can lay in store for us. Today we take the next step and say, - If we are prepared to at least try to listen then – When and How might I be called?
As some of you already know I read and in fact have on my bookshelf a fairly broad range of scriptural material – I try not to get stuck in any one mindset.
Robert Funk was one of biblical studies most renown and controversial scholars. He was and still is known and respected worldwide as a translator of ancient near eastern languages. He was the scholar, who first published the Gospel of Thomas in popular form, and he is a founder of the Jesus Seminar. The Jesus seminar has for the past 30 or so years been delving into the nature of Jesus’ actual stories and sayings, and they have developed some very interesting
and as I said earlier controversial theses and material, but apart from that Funk makes some points about Jesus and how he communicated with those around him that fit extraordinarily well here as we listen to Mark.
When asked what Jesus thought of himself Funk has responded that Jesus rarely spoke of himself at all, and certainly made no claims for himself, but he did talk a great deal about the Kingdom of God, or God’s Dominion. Now this Kingdom or Dominion is not a particular piece of real estate that God and the faithful will one day occupy, but is actually the world, our world when looked at in a particular way. It is actually our world when looked at, as Jesus did, from the perspective of, complete and absolute trust in the Providence of God.
What we are exploring here this morning, is that, being called is simply to be receptive to this radically different perspective, Jesus perspective, on life, on God, and on the world. Now intuitively we know this of course, because nothing less than a revolutionary, fundamentally different, even subversive, view of the world
could produce insights like the ones that lead us as followers of Jesus, to try to find our fulfillment in life, by turning our lives outward, so that they contribute to those around us. This is, to be sure, the opposite of the greed driven market culture that has consumed N.A. in the past 60 or so yrs. And resulted in the economic collapse we experienced worldwide in 2008 and since.
Now it’s the things that we do each day, that make us who we are, and so, it is to be expected that God would reach out to us in our routine, in our “being ourselves”, in the drudgery of daily chores, or in the peace of a stunning sunrise like the one I saw last Sunday morning as I drove in; or as we struggle in our solitude to be able to see and understand God’s vision of the world. It is to be expected that God will come to meet us in the places where we are most of the time.
So how might we know when the call has arrived, or when our perspective has finally moved into line with Jesus’ vision of God’s Dominion? And how might we know if our behaviour is responding to God in a way that is compatible with Jesus vision?
The “how we are called”, and the “recognising of that call” are linked. They are linked because they both relate to comfortability. They both relate to how comfortable one is living within one’s own skin, and how comfortable one is as we relate to those around us. That comfortability is directly related to the level of trust we have in the Providence of God.
Now I’m not suggesting that we should all feel comfortable all or even most the time, because the human condition we live in brings with it sorrow, disappointment, grief and pain, not to mention the huge levels of anxiety that seems to be built into life these days, globally, and nationally, and locally;
but these are transient sensations, they do pass eventually, if we have a healthy attitude toward life.
And I’m not suggesting either that a significant level of discomfort, even pain isn’t sometimes necessary in order that God can get our attention and force us to focus on life issues or decisions that we have been ignoring, sometimes our entire life.
What I am suggesting though, and this is something that I have intuitively known for a number of years, but only really come to terms with since my time at Iona seven years ago, and that is; that regardless of the way in which God cuts through the distractions and the din to get your attention, you have to be comfortable with vulnerability to even hear anything, because living within a human skin is by definition to be vulnerable, and if you’re not comfortable with that, your wires will always be crossed as you try to shut out the messages that aren’t compatible with your own agenda. Utter trust in God’s Providence will give you the peace of mind to hear what is actually going on.
One of the gifts of the internet is a website that offers what is called the TED Lectures. These are, as they describe themselves “ideas worth sharing”.
The quotation on the front of the Order of Service this morning is from an academic name Brene Brown. She is an early TED lecturer and I would recommend her piece on vulnerability as profound while being entertaining at the same time. She says that “vulnerability is at the core of shame and fear and the struggle for worthiness – but it is also the birthplace of joy and creativity and belonging and love....” She is on to one of the great paradoxes of life. One that Jesus understood 2000 years ago.
I believe that the call that Andrew and Peter and the rest experienced was a real sense of the peace and well being that trust in God can bring. They saw this embodied in the person of Jesus, and they followed him devotedly as they pursued this vision of the world. That can bring to us as well the peace of Jesus Christ. Mystics and contemplatives have pursued their relationship with God through isolation and ultra focused devotions and meditation. That is one avenue.
These four disciples, spoken to in the midst of living show us that we can sense this vision of God’s dominion while active in real life and real time.
Trust does not come easily. Trust doesn’t come without a degree of vulnerability. We all know that those we trust the most are the ones who can also hurt us the most. In the weeks and months ahead we will be talking a lot about trust and vulnerability. In the meantime continue to put your faith in Jesus and trust will grow.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario.
Copyright © 2014 Wayne Beamer. All rights reserved.
February 15, 2015 / Transfiguration Sunday
the interview process that precedes Ordination in the UCC. This is a daunting process at times, one particular
question, during one particular interview. In the material that I had provided the interviewers beforehand I
had made a distinction between transformation and transmutation as it related to me and my process. They
asked me a question that included the word transformation, and I responded using the word transmutation.
Only half jokingly one of the interviewers asked me if I thought of myself as an intellectual. My response
betrayed my deep embarrassment but that story is for another time. I had thought that; it was understanding
the nature of the change that was important; where now I understand that what is most important is the
willingness to change because the Holy Spirit will guide the rest of the process if we will just let it happen.
Transfiguration, transformation, transmutation, even transgression.
It is the Trans in trans – mutation that is important. It is the openness, the willingness to take that first step even when pushed. The importance is in the undoing or releasing of the old and the open posture as we step forward into the new formation or mutation or con-figuration. Modern Biblical Archaeology and History
questions whether Moses was an actual historical figure, and that includes the scholarship coming out of some of the best Hebrew and Israeli schools. Regardless of his historical reality though, he was and is for the Jewish people the embodiment of the Law of God.
In contrast, Elijah in historical terms is much more likely to be grounded in a real flesh and blood prophetic teacher. Some of his experiences of God may have grown in the re-telling in order to add to his credibility, but there is little doubt that he and the rest of the prophetic tradition is founded upon real people who stepped up to the plate so to speak and told it the way it was and is for their truths are timeless.
Read; Mark 9:2-9
It is important to move beyond seeing the transfiguration of Jesus just as a marvelous event. If we are attentive and look at life through the lens of faith, there will be moments in our own lives when our lives experience transfiguration as we receive a tangible gift of the presence of God being with us. In these moments, suddenly everything looks different. The world seems a different place, our problems and struggles can be viewed in a new light and the future shines with stunningly new possibilities.
The Gospel reading is a testimony to; what Jesus had come to mean, to the early Christian Church or “Jesus Movement”, by the time of Marks writing. In Jewish thought, Moses was the most important human figure in history: no one comparable has, until Jesus time, appeared on earth, but Mark…… presents Moses conversing with Jesus, on equal terms. Elijah was next in stature, and he joins the group. Since Moses represents the glory of the Torah or “Law,” and Elijah represents the prophets, both ”Law” and Prophets recognize Jesus!
This morning in Scripture we hear of an epiphany, a story of an encounter with God. It is an encounter full of vivid imagery that can help us to understand how,
in those encounters we come face to face with God.
Today were about transition, change, and the profound insights we are allowed when jarred out of our well developed groove or rut depending upon your attitude. When I got back from Iona experience that I have spoken of recently and people would ask how I was adjusting to my return I would often reply that I had been away for four months and that was so long that I now had the opportunity to create a brand new rut for myself.
This is Marks version of the transfiguration, which has parallels in Matthew and Luke. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain. Many things happen on mountains, mountain tops were Holy places, and mountaintop experiences affirmed Gods presence. There on the mountaintop, Jesus is transfigured, changed. He appears before them in dazzling white, a sign of God’s presence. When they see Jesus transfigured, brighter than the brightest star,
pure light before them, they see more than his future and risen life. Jesus shows them who they are becoming. He shows them the glory and destiny of all of humanity. He shows them the promise that can lie within change.
This is a watershed moment in their lives and can be in ours. Once again in the same way …. Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan ….. we hear the voice from Heaven,
“This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”
The vision ends as quickly as it began, like a bursting bubble. The disciples are quickly back in the valley. It is in the valley that they are called to serve lovingly and faithfully. They will carry their mountaintop experience with them out into their ministries. Later when they look back on what has happened; it will help them to face the difficult days, days of loss and confusion.
We as Canadians witnessed a remarkable sight in 2009 in Ottawa, when we saw Canada’s GG at the time the Rt. Hon. Michelle Jean greet the newly inaugurated President of the United States and walk together down the Red carpet together. There was a marvellous picture on one of the National front pages of the two of them sharing an almost intimate moment around a joke that quite honestly says more about the potential for good that lies within our system than all the analysis the media can muster. These two individuals, who personify their respective states both arise from African ancestry and represent a change in cultural attitudes that is nothing less than STUNNING
During my seminary years I worked in the summers as a Chaplin for the military serving cadets at CFB Borden. I taught courses there that related to what it means to live with respect in the human community, and Toronto was used as an example of a multi-racial city, in fact the UN had just declared it the most culturally divers city in the world. Now that is not to say; that this leap from 1946 when Toronto’s culture was almost uniformly white, Anglo-Saxon, and protestant except for the descendants of the Irish that made it this far during the potato famine of the 19th century, that is not to say it was easy.
The racial violence that percolated up from the Irish underclass of that time is no different in cause than the violence we see in any minority community today.
It is poverty that is sustained by lack of education and opportunity. These are the bumps along the way. But this is one of those moments, when suddenly everything looks different. The world seems a different place, our problems and struggles can be viewed in a new light and the future shines with stunningly new possibilities.
Frank Rich is a columnist for the New York Times and has often talked at some length about the very very serious degree to which Americans have their heads stuck in the sand, both individually and collectively. They are seriously disconnected from reality, delusional and in denial about the consequences
of the failure of their model of “me first” economics and a government for the last quarter century that showed no respect for the national soul. In the short term it is just so much easier to be greedy and self absorbed.
While I was at Queen’s doing my theology a dear friend one day in a reflective mood said “I wish someone had told my life would be hard”. This was something that the generations that lived through the depression or came immediately after knew instinctively but those of us removed may have been shielded from harsh reality.
Hopefully this epiphany reminds us of such encounters in our own lives. I have had transformative experiences in the depths of despair and loneliness, I have had transformative experiences in the midst of a diligent search for meaning during my theological education, and I have had profound transformative insights
just lying awake in bed wondering what God's creation has in store.
Now, I don’t mean to infer that they happen all the time but that they happen in unpredictable ways, and often in the midst of crises because our guard is down.
Our natural defence against awareness of God, our self absorption is disabled when we are in crisis mode. They can be lightning quick, or meandering, they can be noisy, or come upon you with stealth, they can be so fleeting and gentle that we almost miss them. They are encounters with God that carry us through the difficult times of life. They affirm that God is with us. When have you encountered God? More importantly, how did it change you? We all have those encounters in our lives, times when the boundaries between Heaven and earth disappear and we see the infinite goodness of God. That allows us to see the possibilities in our own existence. Those encounters allow us to make changes in our lives, to begin to put God first, to answer God’s call.
Lent begins this week with Ash Wednesday. Lent is a spiritual journey, which can bring about transformation in our lives. I’ve heard it said that forty days is the optimal time in which to bring about personal change. Let us use it wisely as a time of spiritual renewal and transformation in each of our lives. Each day in Lent let yourself remember those times when you have been most aware of God’s grace.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario
Copyright © 2014 Wayne Beamer. All rights reserved.
Our Table in the Wild
February 22, 2015 / LENT I
I’ve been lost, and then I’ve been lost. I haven’t told you yet the story from my childhood (although I will
someday) about the excursion at five years old, (alone except for four year old Jimmy from next door), from
our home on Stamford Street in Niagara Falls, across Victoria Ave., down Bender Hill to Victoria Park;
and then the return trip. All the while my mother was in a state of apoplexy - but I didn’t feel lost at all. And
so we can be lost and not know it. I’ve been lost in the woods. That’s part of growing up as a child in or near
a great expanse of bush like I did on the Bruce Peninsula. I’ve been lost while driving although I must say in my
own defence that I have an excellent sense of direction and it takes a lot of confusion and disorientation to get
me off track. The roundabouts in Scotland several years ago accomplished that quite readily. While I was alone,
there were no problems—but when my family arrived and my two boys were in the car, and had reverted as they
often do to behaviour appropriate to the age of twelve ......
That goes not only for orienteering but for life as well. As long as I thought that my compass was calibrated to what I thought was the Truth and was satisfied to think that common sense was all that was needed; then I was unwavering. It took a collision to convince me that my terms of reference were wrong – that my bearings were skewed.
I’ve been so lost I thought I would never be found. When that collision occurred, in the immediate aftermath; and in my disorientation while I was reaching out for something familiar and substantial to grasp,in the same way that we anxiously and gingerly try to move through an unfamiliar and suddenly darkened room,
it was in that momentary fearful state that I thought I might never be found. But found I was, and where was that do you think?
It was still in the wilderness to be sure; but it was just as surely at a table not unlike the one before us that we shall gather around in a few minutes. There are many different forms of lost, many different definitions of wilderness. And so then there must be many different ways of being found.
Read: Mark 1:9-15
Dear God, as we begin our Lenten journey again, silence in us any voice but your own. And startle us again with your steadfast love through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And so we begin the Lenten season, the sombre season before Holy Week — Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday — and Easter, Resurrection Day.
It is a time when Christians remember the great story of Jesus and his love and to turn inward, and to reflect, and to self examine. It begins, for some, with ashes, a reminder of human mortality. Traditionally Lent has been a time for penitence, confession, repentance, and we will be reminded of all of these things during the next five weeks.
I begin this journey, this year, by reminding you that no matter how lost you feel, no matter how disconnected, no matter how disoriented and alone —
God’s love and a table experience like those we share today is always, and easily within your grasp.
The story of Noah and the flood is an epic story of a people who were lost, and of a new beginning. In the beginning God created the world. God created it out of goodness. But evil entered into the world. From the destructive but cleansing waters of the flood God began over again. God entered into a covenant relationship with Noah. It is this covenant that helps us to understand that a creating God not only brings us into existence, but also enters into relationship with us. It breaks down the barriers between God and humanity giving meaning and hope to our existence.
Mark tells us about a new beginning in Jesus' life. His baptism in the Jordan marked for him the beginning of his earthly ministry. Privacy ends, his public life begins. It also marks a covenant relationship between him and God. It is a point of intersection, a meeting of heaven and earth. “You are my Son, the Beloved,” God tells him. The Spirit of God enters him enabling him for what lies ahead. It is for Jesus as it would be for any of us, a time of decision, of pressure, of anxiety. Its little wonder Mark talks of this time as a wilderness experience.
We all face such times in our lives. They may be times of change and growth. They may be times of disaster, or times of uncertainty. They may even be times of great joy; the birth of a child; a death in the family; moving to a new place; changing jobs; a time of unemployment, sickness or retirement.
Every single one of the preceding except of course for retirement I have experienced myself and I can tell you unequivocally I’ve done it without prayer and I’ve done it with prayer and with is better, much better. All are times of risk, times when we risk losing control, times of fear, of vulnerability. And all are opportunities to draw closer to God. All are opportunities for spiritual growth and recommitment. All are wilderness times.
Lent offers us an opportunity to make some of those wilderness connections. It is an opportunity to develop and rekindle our relationship with God. For Lent is a time of self-examination, of checking our focus, of sorting our priorities. It is a time to reflect on God's promises. It is an opportunity to recognize our failure
to live up to our part of the relationship. It is a time to begin anew, through repentance, through seeking God's guidance, through struggle, through renewed commitment, through allowing ourselves some time to make those wilderness connections. We are called to be ark builders. We are called to be seekers in the beauty of the wilderness. We are called to live out our baptismal covenant.
Last week we talked about perspective and how critical it is to have new perspectives when trying to understand. This may be one of the most important times of the year, to use that wisdom; without a valid perspective or frame of reference that links us to our own mortality we cannot remain or become humble and without humility we cannot begin to know God. It is that tangible sense of our own mortality, which humility gives that is necessary to understand our own limitations, and it is this sense of our own limitations that define our relationships with ourselves, with others, with God, and with the cosmos.
One of the ways we anchor ourselves to the covenant with God is with the Statements of Faith that that we articulate as denominations. Our most familiar is the one we call the New Creed. There are the ancient examples like the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, and the newer ones like the Song of Faith. During this season of Lent I want to take you on a journey. And this is the invitation. I want to take you to the places I have been, that have caused resonance in me when I read or contemplate the Song of Faith or the New Creed, and to share with you how profound that can be.
My faith journey like anyone else is filled with bumps and detours. And it is often on those detours that the most important scenery comes into view. Because it is a detour it is terrain that you would not usually be travelling. It is likely a less efficient way to get to the place you thought was so important. And there are great big fluorescent signs all over the place that don’t fit in with the landscape,but they tell you how to find the next corner even when your instinct is telling you that “this can’t be right” when you are on a detour you darn soon make the choice to trust the signs and ignore your intuition, or else you become completely and possibly hopelessly lost.
Now you will note I did not say that the detour was pleasant scenery, I didn’t say interesting even. I said it was important. It is often on those detours that we meet the people and circumstances that give us pause to contemplate the real meaning and nature of a relationship with God. It is often on these detours
that we see for the first time the stark difference between life fulfilled, and life in the dark pit of isolation from life and from God.
And so here we see the beginnings of the Easter mystery starting to unfold; as we seek to know ourselves and to understand our relationship with God and with the wilderness we often inhabit, whether we are lost or not. As we gather around the Lord’s Table today remember; Lent is pause, Lent is self-evaluation Lent is the gift of repentance, as God’s will for us is revealed, and Lent is a search for balance; between the disappointment that may accompany self-understanding
and the promise of a new life that we have in Jesus Christ.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street United Church in Brantford Ontario
Copyright © 2014 Wayne Beamer. All rights reserved.