Jan 3, 2016 Epiphany
John 1: 1-12
In the Beginning
“In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.”
I’d like to begin this morning with an excerpt from a story by Walter Wangerin. It comes from a small collection of meditations and stories he has published entitled Ragman; and I think it speaks to each of us about being aware of God’s grace.
It’s called “Epiphanies, little children leading”,
and it begins with Wangerin describing Matthew
his son as a borderline hyperactive.
He goes on to describe a short litany of incidents
in which Matthew had gradually worn down,
the very real patience of this pastor of a father,
down to only threadbare remains.
In a word – Wangerin was frazzled.
And then came the final straw,
and the camel’s back was broken. (excerpt follows)
“ In round and echoing terms
I did condemn the boy.
In the language of Moses and the prophets,
I sinned against my son.
That afternoon he ran away.
Clarence Fields, Cub Scout leader,
called from Church.
“Isn’t Matthew coming today?” he said.
He should have come straight from school,” I said.
“That’s an hour ago. He isn’t here yet,”
I covered the mouthpiece and spoke to Joseph in the kitchen. “Do you know where Matthew is?”
His brother said, “Yes.”
Then he said “No.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
Joseph’s eyes were wounded and near tears.
“He ran away,” said Joseph.
“But I don’t know where he went.”
“He said he wasn’t worth nothing.
He said he wasn’t coming back.”
Then Joseph cried.
And a hammering began in my own chest.
It was not easy thing to tell Clarence that Matthew ran away. This was my son. This was my doing.
For my own part, I didn’t know what to do.
I went out the front door. I wandered into Bayard Park and began to cross it through trees.
Oh, my son, what have I done to you?
Guilt is a very real pain, thick in the chest, sharp in the gut, and almost intolerable. The guilty man will hunch and cup his belly in order to hold the pain; but a broken posture does not ease it:
there is no one to blame but himself.
Then I saw him – Matthew, dragging his little self across Powell and into the park, coming home.
I didn’t touch him. I hadn’t the right. I held my distance and fell in step beside him.
“You ran away?” I asked.
“But you came home.” I said
“I saw a man. I thought he was going to kidnap me. I was afraid. So I came home.”
Ah, Matthew! The home that I made for you is only the lesser of two fears – a place to hide in,
not to live in. Ah, Matthew! Tiny child at my side.
I had no more words to say, a wretched father.
We went home in silence, he to his room, I to my study, where I sat in my chair and could not move.
I faced the open door and grieved for the past and the future together. Earth stood still.
I think it was half hour later that Matthew passed that door toward the stereo.
He glanced in, saw me, and stopped.
“You okay?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Are you sick?”
He gazed at me a moment, perplexed,
and I dropped my eyes. Without a sound,
neither sobbing nor sighing, I cried.
“Oh-h-h, said Matthew softly. “No, Dad.” he said, “don’t worry.” He came into the study and put his hand on my knee. “I love you,” he said. He smiled briefly. And he left.
That child! Where did he get the knowledge? Where did he get the maturity,
the might of an ageless mercy,
the transfiguring power to make me his son,
and to make his son free?
No, this was not logical.
The sequence, somewhere between my sin
and his charity, was breached;
some other cause had cracked into the process;
And I – sweetly limp in my chair – whispered, “Except God be in you.”
A door had opened in the universe,
and through my son, and in my face,
the Glory of the Lord had burst forth
from a little child.”
It is with this realisation
that Wangerin fulfills his true parenthood,
and even more his true personhood.
God’s Grace broke into this process,
and was manifest on the spot;
a gift of freedom that defies description.
Just imagine yourself missing out on something as important as that gift, simply because one wasn’t open.
Today we’re entering the season of Epiphany;
This is one of those events celebrated by the early church that we are now recovering,
and beginning to celebrate more frequently. Epiphany was celebrated actually,
long before Christmas came to be.
In ancient Greek, the language of the NT,
Epiphany means manifestation
and came to mean to Christians
a time to celebrate Jesus entry into human history
as God’s manifestation to the world.
We’ve just heard in gifted words and wisdom, from someone who recognised God’s manifest grace.
Now let’s listen to the further words of John’s Gospel in Chapter – One Read: John 1
Wangerin's view of life profoundly changed with
the experience of God he encountered in his son,
as he says,
“a door had been opened in the universe”;
he had added a complete dimension
to his entire existence simply by being open.
He came to experience God’s everlasting love, forgiveness, and the renewal
that we call resurrection.
Wangerin came to understand
that we have to be open
if God’s manifestations are going to mean anything.
Well, just how open are we? It varies doesn’t it? Sometimes we are more open than others.
And some people are more open than others.
It fluctuates because we live with a paradox for which there is no solution.
The fluctuation back and forth is because we are constantly torn between: on the one hand living our lives openly and fully connected to our surroundings to community, and in communion with God;
and on the other hand –
recoiling and accumulating the protective layers
that we put on like a layer of armour
every time we encounter a painful experience.
Wangerin’s flash of God’s grace
and the warmth of understanding that developed between he and his son
took place because this man
had the courage to be himself,
openly declaring his pain,
and trusting in the response.
In the Gospels we are constantly seeing Jesus
stand in contradiction to the norms and expectations of society and culture.
Jesus understanding of
and connectedness to God required this stand
and this is one of the ways he showed that posture.
It was because of his openness that he crossed the traditional legalistic boundaries of Hebrew culture, to embrace those people who were marginalized,
and to bring them into community.
He associated with tax collectors,
who today equate to wealthy shysters.
He ministered to lepers who find their modern equivalent in the AIDS or HIV victim.
And he befriended prostitutes who today we still shun with an air of righteous moral superiority.
It was because of his openness
that the experiences like today’s reading could be seen as a manifestation // as an Epiphany.
And it was because of Jesus openness
that he could remain connected with God
and humanity throughout his descent
into the degradation and death of the passion.
Jesus remained open and connected even unto death.
So what does this mean to you and I
as we gather around the Lord’s Table next week?
What can a more open attitude really mean?
Well, it is in openness to those around us,
in openness to this faith community,
in openness to the broad human community,
and in openness to communion with God
that we find human fulfillment
and the simple reason is relationship.
It is through these relationships
that the Grace of God can enter our lives
like it did for Walter Wangerin.
And if we are truly open,
will cross the cultural boundaries set by wealth,
or disability, or traditionalism
(a word I’m going to talk about this winter).
When we truly open ourselves to all relationships
by removing the cultural filter that we use
to sort the marginalized from the mainstream,
we open that door Wangerin spoke of when he said
“ A door had been open on the universe,
and through my son,
and in my face,
the Glory of the Lord had burst forth,
from a little child.”
“What has come into being 4in him was life,*
and the life was the light of all people.
5The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,*
full of grace and truth.” AMEN
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street / Heritage United Churches in Brantford Ontario.
Jan 10, 2016 Baptism of Jesus
Luke 3:15-17 & 21-22
“The Water of Life.”
There was in one of my former
congregations a retired English
teacher who is an émigré from
He and I had an ongoing dialogue
for the entire time I was in Wingham
about the sermon words and wording that I used and so I am sorry he is not here this morning,
to tease me about the title of this morning’s sermon, “The Water of Life.”
Those who are of an etymological bent
might know that for a Scot “the water of life”
has a particular meaning.
The Scots Gaelic translation of “water of life”—
aqua vitae in Latin — is uisge beatha.
Uisge, “water”, and beatha, “life”,
is the root of the English word whisky.
However I can assure you that this is not
a Sunday-morning conversation
about a Saturday-night topic.
I have a few distillery tour stories to tell
if you ever engage me in a conversation about my tour of Scotland during the month following my sabbatical time at the Abbey on the Isle of Iona just off the west coast of Scotland,
but not this morning.
The water of life for us today
is not the spirit distilled from malted barley
dried over pungent peat fires but instead
the water in the baptismal font.
Today is the day in the Christian year
when we remember that Jesus was baptized
by John in the River Jordan.
Jesus’ baptism is remembered at this time of year because it’s one of the three traditional texts
for the season around Epiphany.
These texts tell of the revelation
of the divinity of Jesus: first to the Magi,
the wise men as they kneel at the manger;
then secondly the story of the first miracle in John, the first sign, the changing of water into wine
at the wedding at Cana, our text next week;
and this the third Epiphany text,
when the voice of the Lord says,
as Jesus rises out of the water,
“This is my Son, the Beloved,
with whom I am well pleased.”
Read: Luke 3, 15-17 & 21-22
In Luke’s Gospel,
Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River,
and after he is baptized,
the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove.
A voice from heaven speaks, “You are my Son the beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
Baptism and the Holy Spirit:
they come together in Jesus Christ.
In this coming together we can find the meaning of our lives and the mission of our faith community.
Jesus himself chose to be baptised.
That’s something that very few of us in the so-called mainstream protestant denominations can claim, except of course if you are a Baptist;
or if you choose to be baptised as an adult
as part of your own personal faith formation process.
Most of us were baptised as infants
in the same way we still baptise here at SS&HUC;
and so it goes without saying that we don’t remember out own baptism.
was aware of the spirit moving within him.
This morning I’d like you to reflect with me
upon your memories of the very first time
you were aware of the spirit moving within you.
This may or may not jump right out at you.
When I began to reflect on the question this past week; my earliest memory wasn’t really self evident. I eventually settled on the time in my life where as a teenager I first sensed the call to ministry.
As some of you will know it took another 25yrs for me to respond. Now what that says
about my degree of awareness of the Spirit
I’m not sure but I do know
the Dove perched on my shoulder.
I also have a clear memory of how profound the feeling was. I was permanently,
if only slightly changed.
When were the times in your life that you were aware of the Spirit?
What events in your life would you think of as significant in your spiritual growth?
I am certain that there are some.
Sometimes it doesn't have to be something that we label as "religious".
It is something that happens in our life
that gives us a new insight into ourselves
or into the meaning of life.
It could be as simple as discovering
how much we need other people
and how much they need us and how God is present in those relationships.
When we think about baptism,
naturally we reflect on water.
And when we do that we really are reaching into some of the very basic building blocks of life,
some of the most elemental things to reflect on.
Water, of course, is itself the giver of life.
Without water there is no life.
And water is an important player,
an important symbol, in scripture’s story of God’s relationship to God’s people
and their relationship to God.
We remember the Spirit of God hovering over the water at creation;
we remember the cleansing of the flood
and the new covenant, the new relationship,
that God has with God’s people through Noah.
The place of water in the Exodus:
that the children of Israel in Moses’ time
are delivered, are brought into liberation
and new life, by coming through the waters
of the Red Sea.
And then for us, ultimately, the story
of Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan,
the proclamation of our salvation in that.
The expression “This is my Son” is a direct quotation from the Second Psalm, which was to be spoken at a king’s coronation, or crowning.
What kind of king is this, people have always asked, that goes under the water
and comes up dripping like a baby from his bath? What kind of king is this
upon whom the Holy Spirit descends?
Clearly this will not be a ruler who goes for power and prestige, lording it over other people.
The second half of the powerful, majestic affirmation is this:
“This is my Son with whom I am well pleased.”
And that is a quotation from one of the suffering servant passages in Isaiah.
This is a king who will suffer.
This is a king who will serve,
who will lay down his life for many.
This is the servant who will bring justice to the nations and open the eyes of the blind and release the prisoners who are unjustly held.
One of the unique aspects of the early Jewish tradition was its emphasis on restorative justice rather that punitive or retributive justice.
In other words the Jews thought it was more important to put things right
than to punish people so severely
they are afraid to do anything wrong.
They felt that a just world
in relationship with a just God
would produce a just and therefore peaceful
and prosperous society.
We struggle every day to live up to that aspiration.
A faith formation program that I have run in the past is entitled “Empire: Paul, Rome, and the Kingdom of God”. In it Dominic Crossan says “the early Christian philosophy was peace through justice instead of the Imperial Roman philosophy of peace through victory”.
Sacrament comes from the Latin
”sacer” — to make Holy.
“A sacrament is an act when something holy happens” – something Holy.
It is a celebration of new life for the families
and for us as a community of faith.
It is a family gathering of sorts.
It is a naming ceremony,
a public recognition of the individual.
But also something holy happens because in the symbol of the water of baptism is the gift of life, the gift of God’s renewing love, which we call grace.
For most of us Baptism happens only once.
Baptism happens only once, but the implications of our baptism are with us for life.
Baptism is the sign of welcome
into the membership of this community
and Christ’s church,
the body of Christ present in the world we inhabit.
In Galatians, Paul talks about what this means.
He says that through our baptism
there is no longer difference;
“there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free,
male and female,” he says,
“because all are one in Christ Jesus.”
To recognize that radical love and equality is to live a life rooted in being baptized.
2009 marked the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Bishop Desmond Tutu. This is a quote from a recently re-broadcast PBS documentary on his leadership of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission which saw over it’s time in existence stunning displays of love and forgiveness.
“What I did learn were, as with two contrary things, that one was to be overwhelmed by the depth of depravity to which we can sink. That's the one side. And that bowls you over.
But that's not the only truth that comes out because the other thing that the commission revealed is that people are incredible. People are a glorious creation; that just as much as we have the extraordinary capacity for evil, so we have a remarkable capacity for good.
When you listened to people who by rights ought to have been bristling with anger and resentment – but were instead showing that magnanimity,
that willingness to forgive. That's tremendous.”
To recognize and to respond to that love
is to live into our baptism —
to live for justice and to proclaim,
in the extraordinary words of Bishop Tutu,
words written in the darkest time of apartheid in South Africa, to proclaim to the world that:
“Goodness is stronger than evil,
love is stronger than fear,
light is stronger than darkness
and life stronger than death.”
That is the real water of life. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street / Heritage United Churches in Brantford Ontario.
Jan 24, 2016 Epiphany 3
1Cor 12, 12-31 & Luke 4, 14-21
“Letting God Go Free”
Here we are, the two congregations,
sitting side by side, comfortable with
each other’s company – not
necessarily saying a whole lot but
thoroughly enjoying being together;
sounds like an old married couple to me.
Sydenham congregation celebrated their anniversary last October,
Heritage did so last week and
we are on the threshold of a new day.
Behold – I do a new thing; says God in Isaiah.
We’ve lived through trauma, each of us
and those experiences have left us encumbered with sometimes painful memories.
But we are also in the shedding process.
The process of leaving things behind.
Finding a safe place to leave some memories
that we just can’t nurture anymore.
Your transition Team has been active now
for about five months, getting to know each other,
coming to terms with the challenge
they have accepted and laying plans
for a series of three interactive conversations
with you the congregation over the next year or so.
We should be finishing off the last one
in the run-up to Easter next year.
In the mean time our status as two separate congregations is dissolving before our very eyes
as meetings and workshops are held
as if we were one.
Like the Holy Manners workshop we held yesterday,
I tell you Heritage and Sydenham were virtually indistinguishable.
Shortly I suspect the only ones
thinking of us as separate will be
the governance and regulatory people.
We are the new wine,
avoiding as we must the constraints of old skins.
Last week Tom talked about Jesus
setting the stage for the very best
to come to fruition after the preliminaries are over.
Today we start off by asking ourselves
How do we tell who we are?
How do we tell who, of those around us,
might have a similar take on things?
How do we go about feeling comfortable
in a world that can change in an instant?
How do we go about feeling part of a much larger and more significant world rather than thinking of ourselves as just an individual?
Well we do those things
by understanding ourselves
as part of a larger whole,
and at least in part by means of traditions.
And a grand tradition it will be Monday evening
as the Scots and all those who wish they were Scottish celebrate Robbie Burns’ day.
A number of years ago in a mood of frustration,
I made an off the cuff remark about the possibility of changing a component of the communion service. Now the normal course of events for something like that to take place would be for the suggestion to go to the worship committee or in their case to the session for discussion and approval before any change could or should take place.
This is a process that would take a month or so.
Well, within two days of my original remark
I began to receive feedback on the suggestion
which some were afraid might be fait accompli.
To make a long story short, the antennae went up,
the immune system kicked in,
and ultimately no such change ever took place,
at least while I was there.
We take our religious traditions very, very, seriously because religious language
and religious symbols speak directly
to who we are as individuals,
and often that identity is in turn defined
by the biological family we were born into,
or the ethnic group we identify with most strongly.
This is not stuff that you tamper with
casually or without due process.
The reading from 1st Corinthians this morning that Shirley has just read for us is the source
or at least a source of one of the most profound, useful, and well known of Paul’s gifts of understanding bequeathed to us.
It is the foundation of our understanding of ourselves as part of the larger whole
that we know as the body of Christ;
the community of faith that we call The Church.
We continued the passage from last week.
If it hadn’t come up in the lectionary cycle
I would have been introducing it myself at about this time because it speaks directly and specifically
to every one of us here this morning,
and everyone associated with us as a congregation,
as we begin together our quest for IDENTITY
as part of the Body of Christ.
It is also fitting that we should be reading this passage as we are about to gather in several weeks about the Lord’s Table.
It is a call to be community.
He is writing to a community that is deeply divided. They are quarrelling about who is to be leader.
They are arguing about which ministries
are the most valuable to the community.
Paul uses the image of the body to express
their need to draw together as a community.
It is a very clever illustration, and Paul milks it.
We know how the parts of our body work together. We know that we do not have to think about
how to get from one spot to another.
Our feet simply take us.
We do not think about the complexity of vision,
at least not until we need bifocals.
We simply look and see.
His analogy provides an ideal,
a norm by which we work as society.
Christ, Paul tells them, exists as a body.
The parts of the body are all the Christians.
By baptism, we become a part of the body.
The body becomes a reality.
So we find in the community a diversity of race,
of sex, of social class, all interrelated.
All are necessary to the unity of the church;
and that unity is the essence of Christian community.
This morning’s gospel talks to us about Jesus involved in a traditional liturgy within his own community of faith,
in the synagogue of his youth,
where he takes a leadership role,
and reads from the scriptures a lesson from Isaiah. The lesson was well received and the congregation (vs. 22) all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”.
Luke though, goes on to tell us
that Jesus ‘experience in the synagogue in Nazareth
did not end as well as it began.
In the end Luke says the congregation
were filled with rage,
they drove him out of town,
took him to the edge of a cliff –
in order to throw him over – but he escaped.
What did he say to incur this wrath?
What did Jesus do
to change his audience so drastically?
Well he delivered them a message,
that they not only did not expect,
but did not like to hear.
It was not only uncomfortable but a surprise.
Jesus’ audience like us,
depended upon Israel’s covenant with God
for comfort and protection.
They relied upon God’s promises
to the chosen people,
but also like us they had selective hearing
and tended to hear what they wanted to hear.
Jesus in his role as a prophet in a long line of prophets, Isaiah, Elisha, Elijah, Jesus – often cut deeply, not because he foretold the future,
but because he poked around in what they and we, already know, stirring up thoughts
that they and we have chosen to ignore.
Jesus audience had come that day expecting something in particular.
They expected the regular liturgy.
They expected an ordinary service.
They took from God’s promises and rightly so that God is reliable and dependable,
that God will always be with us.
But and here’s the trick,
they took it one step too far.
They thought that because God promised to be faithful, dependable, and reliable,
that God would then also be predictable.
Well, this is simply not so,
and therefore when Jesus reminded them of what they already knew,
that God is free and alive,
and gracious beyond the bounds
of our willingness to know,
they switched from amen to kill him.
Jesus had made reference in his reading from Isaiah that during Elijah’s ministry
God had blessed an undeserving outsider and that God had cured a Syrian terrorist through Elisha. These were things
that were more than they wanted to know
or be reminded of.
They wanted to limit God’s activity.
They wanted the covenant to conform
to their own limitations.
They wanted no more
than their own vision of God’s covenant to prevail, and they were prepared to kill
to protect their own limited little vision of God.
Does this sound the least bit familiar?
We live in a world beset by religious fundamentalism of all stripes. (Egypt)
And, those in the extreme
all have one thing in common.
They all think that they are
the exclusive repository of God’s truth,
and they are often prepared to kill to protect
their own limited little vision and version of God.
Just as the crusaders did 1000 years ago
and as the Christians in Bosnia did to the Moslems just two decades ago.
As the Moslem hoards did when they overran North Africa a 1000 years ago,
and as the Sikhs did that blew up the Air India flight that was, just several years ago,
the subject of yet another investigation.
Just as the authors of the 2001
terrorist attack on the U.S. did.
Human beings will do just about anything
to protect their vision of God no matter how misguided and perverse it may be.
When we begin to presume that God is predictable we are on awfully shaky ground,
for to think that we actually have the perception
to understand definitively and unerringly
what God is and what God is not,
or what God wants and what God does not want,
is without a doubt the height of arrogance.
Jesus escaped the mob in Nazareth,
but a few short months later
there was a different mob in a different place
that was equally anxious to preserve and defend
its predictable little vision of God.
This time though there was professional help.
When the Romans discovered the unrest that Jesus was creating by reminding the people that the covenant was with humanity not just the Jews,
that the gap between rich and poor
was out of hand,
and that everyone had an equal right to dignity, – when the Romans discovered the message,
and the healthy ferment that it was creating,
they very quickly did what oppressors do,
they got rid of him.
Exactly the same way Vladimir Putin seems to get rid of vexing truth tellers.
They simply executed Jesus in a manner
that would discourage those
who thought he might have had something right.
They executed him in the hopes
that what would prevail
would not be a threat to their rule.
Well we know how that turned out don’t we.
So on this journey we have embarked upon together what’s your ideal destination;
what do you hope for?
What vision do you have of us;
for the congregations when they’re blended?
How do you see your vision of this church unfold?
In various forms and in many different circumstances were going to be considering these questions in the next year.
Each voice will be heard.
So pray about our future,
pray about your place in our future,
pray about your part in the Body of Christ,
and pray about how you fit into the Kingdom of God!! Amen
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street / Heritage United Churches in Brantford Ontario.