Oct 4, 2015 World Wide Communion
Job 1:1-10 & Mark 10: 13-16
Living in the Shade
The title of this morning’s sermon
sounds as if it could be idyllic;
if, for example, it were on a tropical
isle looking out over an expanse of
white sand, while reclining in a hammock
beside a quaint little thatched hut.
Or, it could give us a sense of safety and shelter,
if one were in parts of the world where the climate is increasingly unforgiving, barren, arid and parched.
This morning though this reference to shade refers to the way we often position ourselves,
standing off to the side, or behind a bush,
so that we don’t get hit by the direct glare
of the “Light of the World”.
This is about a light that is so bright
that we run for cover.
Last week I suggested that over the next few weeks I want to talk to you about the lessons we have learned and will learned together over this past year and the year or two left before us.
Of those lessons, we are this morning going to refer to our understanding that:
Our life as a Christian community lies beyond the walls of this beautiful old church.
Love projected beyond our immediate community can be the light of the world.
Love manifest within community is the bloodstream of the Body of Christ.
Compassion is one of the central core messages that Jesus projected in his ministry.
Worldwide Communion, or World Communion, as it has come to be known, is, I have always thought, one of our better ideas.
The idea, which grew out of the brokenness of the human community before and during World War II, was that on the first Sunday of October
Christians all over the world would come to the table of our Lord and celebrate, together,
his love for the world—
and therefore – our unity in that love,
which transcends the barriers of nation,
race, and ideology.
God’s grace comes to us in unexpected ways.
It comes through the most unlikely of people.
And it challenges us to remember that we don’t hold exclusive rights to God’s power and love.
We, in this congregation are not the only ones in relationship with our loving God.
The Body of Christ Worldwide is expressed in an enormous array of variations.
Many of those variations are imposed by the societies within which those Christians live.
The role of Women is one of the better examples
of great differences imposed by culture.
While today we have Christian denominations
that still exclude women from any decision making or power roles of any kind;
in the early church many of the house churches
met in homes owned by wealthy women.
And there were active female community leaders and disciples like Pricilla and Lydia.
We often look down upon parts of the Church Universal because they have been overcome by their host culture.
But we must remember that’s what happened to us when St Augustine set in motion
the European movement to oppress women
that led to hundreds and hundreds of thousands
of deaths over the next 1500 years.
So we are often surprised –
when we see Christian values being carried out
by people we do not consider to be
our kind of Christian.
In feeling this way, though,
we are restricting God’s grace.
We are setting ourselves apart
as being somehow better than the other,
not open to the possibilities
of how God is at work in the world.
But, we are not alone
in our inability to see God at work in others.
Just listen to the disciple’s behaviour.
Jesus’ disciples had a sense of their exclusive ownership of Jesus. At least that is what I see in today’s gospel reading.
Read: Mark 10: 13-16
So what is it with the little children?
Why does Jesus repeatedly
in more than one gospel infer that children
get a free pass into the kingdom of heaven?
How can we square this with the lessons
that we have learned together.
Well this is so simple that it is like a truism; which is something so obvious that we take it for granted without understanding its causes.
For centuries the churches taught that the free pass emanated from the “sinless nature of a child”.
It was thought that very young children
simply had not had the time
to sin in any significant way.
They were blameless.
This of course uses the language of sin as a wicked deed which I find unhelpful and never use, but that’s a different sermon.
A much more enlightened way of understanding
this free pass, I think, is
in the positive rather than the negative.
Children are open and honest
with those around them.
Tuesday I was in Paris having supper with Juliette and Colin my 8 and 10 year old grandchildren.
The smile that shines from those little faces and the warmth of her hugs are I think the very best way to understand Gods uninhibited love of each and every one of us and the Grace that surrounds us.
The little children in the gospel story
were seen by Jesus as exemplifying Gods relationship with us and so …
were by definition part of the kingdom already.
This is what is sometime called Radical Hospitality because it is beyond our normally expected set of adult behaviours.
It is the form of Hospitality that Iona is all about.
It is the form of hospitality that this table before us, is all about.
For Juliet and Colin, everyone gets the benefit of the doubt. Even though they will learn to be careful there are no questions about
who is in and who is out.
There are no questions about
who abides by our rules and who does not.
This Worldwide communion Sunday gives Christians an opportunity to simultaneously unite in our most central of sacramental acts.
While at the same time stand in the glare of the Light of the World with the entire Christian community and in a sense stand there, before God, knowing that, every single one of those around you are just as afraid of the bright light as you are,
and would like to hide in the shade from time to time with you, if just for a little peace.
You and I have the opportunity to meet God through Jesus Christ.
Everything Jesus stands for,
everything Jesus said,
and everything Jesus did,
points to a profound understanding of God's will and for God’s purpose
for his life and for ours.
Jesus expressed his union with God's purpose for his life at his last Passover feast with his disciples.
He acknowledged the ever-present weakness
and self-serving tendencies
that are part of “human nature”
when he confronted Judas.
And he entreated us, to make his Way,
something that is so important in our lives
that we think of it “as oft’ as ye drink”.
As much a part of our lives as food
or drink or even the air we breathe.
The Lord’s Table is not only the place
that we meet Jesus, and in turn God.
It is also the place we meet the greater human community in its truly universal context.
As we do on this very special day.
As profound as it may seem
that we urge to meet God
in this place with this sacrament,
equally profound is the fact
that we do that by meeting ourselves,
in our barest most unencumbered state.
It is by accepting the paradox
that to live life is to give your life away as Jesus did,
by accepting that paradox,
that we truly meet ourselves,
our neighbours around the Lord’s Table.
We also meet of course, the wider human community, some looking on, some not,
some so stricken with hunger and need of all kinds that they can barely focus on their own desperate state.
This sacrament depends upon only two things,
but returns a whole host of life giving results.
These are the only two things that I would ask
that you remember specifically this morning.
This sacrament depends upon the ever-present grace of God, and it depends upon
our response to that grace.
In other words it depends upon our willingness
to engage the wonder of transformation
and to step out of the shade and
stand in the glare of the Light of the World.
Community around the Lord’s Table returns to us in equal measure, truth, joy, hope, liberation, understanding, and compassion.
It is a wellspring of life. AMEN
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street / Heritage United Churches in Brantford Ontario.
Oct 18, 2015 Baptism
Job 23:1-9, 16-17 & Mark 10:17-31
“Watch a Child Give Thanks”
Oh, the Lord's been good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun, the rain and the apple seed;
Oh, the Lord's been good to me.
So what do you see when a child gives thanks?
What do you see on Christmas morning,
or a birthday…….
or when you tell them that Mom or Dad
or Grandma or Granddad are going to take them to their favourite park for some time on the swings or..
What you see as I do is the light switch on behind their eyes. And what you get as a response
is excitement and is purely genuine.
Just how often is our thanksgiving
laced with excitement?
And just how often is it really genuine
and not perfunctory.
In order to be thankful one needs to be grateful, thankfulness and gratitude go hand in hand,
where gratitude is understood to be appreciation for something that might not otherwise have been.
As we have recently passed the end of my first year with you as your pastor we’ve been talking about some of the things that we have learned together and things I hope we will learn together.
One of the things that we have talked about somewhat and will be talking about a good deal more is generosity of spirit; generosity of spirit and the constellation of variations on that characteristic.
This morning we have a chance to think about, meditate on, and pray about, what it means to be generous, what it means to be thankful, and how are those two sides of the same coin tied into Jesus central message; that compassion is the central characteristic around which we must build our lives. And what is most important of all, to be genuine.
We’ve talked about generosity and how generosity of spirit is born of a humble attitude and a thankful, grateful outlook on life;
and how that translates into our daily lives from many different angles.
We’ve noticed that in our struggle
to live lives of service and fulfillment
we are often faced with ambiguity and paradox
and even more difficult faced with Jesus habit
of going straight to the heart of the matter
and turning it upside down, here we go again.
This time it’s about our stuff,
and how much easier the gospel message would be to swallow without all our stuff.
Read: Mark 10:17-31
Most of us here this morning I’m sure
have noticed that sometimes in life
it is hard to tell the good news from the bad.
Certainly there are those times
that are unambiguous,
like when you are about to become a grandparent,
but as we all know those unambiguous occasions are actually in the minority.
Well it is the same in scripture of course
because this is our story,
it is sometimes difficult to know
whether you are dealing with
the good news of grace
or the bad news of judgment.
Job’s story has had people confused about that for nearly three thousand years.
And in Mark, a harsh divine judgment it turns out,
in the topsy-turvy world of the gospel,
can be an act of God’s love.
Sometimes grace and judgment are the same things. And then this we all know, sometimes,
the only difference between good news and bad news is where you happen to be sitting
when you get the news!
One of the most difficult times during my transition from my former life to a life in ministry,
came as I was beginning what we call in the United Church the inquirer process, during which,
prospective candidates, as I was, spend a year,
with the help of fellow congregants and presbytery guides, plumbing the depths of their call to ministry.
There was a fellow on my committee, a minister, who would be described, if you were being polite, as uninhibited.
Bill could and would from time to time say anything to anyone if he felt it necessary.
Now this is the ultimate version of being genuine.
He asked me questions that not only I had never thought of but, that actually went straight to the heart of who I was, and am, and I have to tell you that I have never been so uncomfortable,
and so intimidated in my entire life.
As it turned out, and as painful as it was, that encounter was another of my life changing events.
We have all had experiences,
in which there were some tough,
difficult words spoken, and you may have thought of them as too harsh a judgment;
yet they turned out to be one of the most loving things anyone ever said to you.
Let’s take this morning’s scripture from Mark.
The story about the man seeking the kingdom is in all three synoptic Gospels, Mark, Luke, & Matthew;
one calls this man “young,”
another, Luke, calls him “rich.”
Mark just calls him “a man.”
Mark says simply that he was a “man,”
that is, just a guy off the street,
an ordinary person with no particular pedigree,
one of us.
Later in the story, we are told that he
“had many possessions,” but
who here this morning doesn’t fit that description?
We may not be rich, or young,
but we all have a lot of stuff, a great many things.
So right off the bat we can sense this may be a story about us.
One day, on his way, Jesus meets a man.
Mark casually mentions that Jesus was
“setting out on a journey.”
You know what that means.
You know where this “journey” is going to end
in just a few more chapters; the cross.
And as he begins this fateful journey, he is encountered by a man,
who has “great possessions,”
who addresses him as “Good Teacher.”
Jesus is a teacher, a rabbi, who is called good.
The young man is religiously inclined and attempts to get Jesus into a discussion about eternal life.
Underestimating him, Jesus tells him
“go and obey all the commandments”
and then come back and they can talk.
The man surely startles Jesus by saying,
“Oh, I’ve obeyed all the commandments,
since I was a kid in Sunday school.
I’ve never broken any of the commandments.”
It turns out that this man is not only successful materially (he has lots of stuff)
but he is also successful spiritually.
How many of us here this morning are even in the same ballpark?
Jesus says to him, “I love you, and because I love you so much, I’m going to give you something I don’t just give everybody.
I want you to go, sell everything you’ve got,
give it to the poor, and then come follow me.”
With that, Mark says this man slumped down,
got really depressed,
gets back into his Porsche, and leaves.
He was shocked by what the good teacher told him. He went away “grieved.” And Jesus says,
“Man, it is hard to save these young rich ones.”
“How hard is it, Jesus?” ask his disciples.
Jesus responds, “It is about as hard as to get a fully loaded camel through the eye of a needle! Impossible! But of course, with God,
I suppose anything is possible, even this.”
So is this, good news or bad?
Of course, it’s bad news.
We’re ordinary folks, who have lots of stuff,
who have come here this morning looking for hope.
Each of us has gotten out of bed and come to church in order to ask,
“Good Teacher, what must we do
to be faithful followers of your way?”
Here, a sincere seeker comes to the feet of Jesus to be taught, and the class ends in failure.
In fact, I understand that this is the only call story in all the gospels where someone rejects God’s call. Someone, a man, maybe young, maybe rich, maybe just a man, is being asked to come follow Jesus.
But he was shocked and grieved
by what Jesus taught him.
So he refuses, and the reason was money.
This is bad news, discouraging teaching about how our material attachments,
our preoccupations with security,
and our self-serving resource distribution,
keep us from following Jesus.
The story ends in depression,
and in rejection.
Or does it?
The good thing is, though;
that this may be bad news,
but it may not be your bad news.
So where does this story end?
Does it end with the young man’s rejection
and exit? Well no,
Peter the central disciple in so many stories blurts out, “Lord, we have left everything,
homes, family, friends, and we have followed you!”
In other words, we are not like him, when you called us, we did not slink away in the other direction.
We came forth.
We let go of a lot, in order to be embraced by you,
in order to join on with your movement.
We stayed the course,
kept attending class,
kept taking notes,
even when we were shocked by what you taught us, even when we were grieved.
Some Sundays we wanted to walk away,
go in the other direction, sleep in late,
because that way it would be easier
than to be confronted by the sometimes shocking words of this “Good Teacher.”
But we did not.
We stayed the course.
We kept at it. We’re still here.
And then Jesus says, “Rejoice!”
The story does not end in depression, grieving, and rejection, but in Jesus’ promise and in rejoicing. That’s how this story ends, with rejoicing.
It ends with a moment of truly genuine excitement.
Jesus tells them, “I promise you, for everything you have given up, I will give you much more.
For everything you have turned your back upon,
I will give you ten times more. Rejoice!”
One of the gifts this congregation is blessed with is a healthy sprinkling of teachers, some by vocation some by avocation, some fully active, some slowing down. And so we know better than some that sometimes it takes a teacher, a really good teacher, to bring out the best in us, to tell us,
not what we think we want to hear,
but what we need to hear.
And when we dare to listen, dare to follow, dare to be genuine then we are able to rejoice.
Rejoice, despite all the difficulties,
Jesus offers to strip us of all the meaningless stuff
to which we cling.
He is drawing us through that narrow needle’s eye toward the Way that leads to a genuine life,
and Rejoice; that with God, all things really are possible. AMEN
Delivered by the Reverend Wayne Beamer
at Sydenham Street / Heritage United Churches in Brantford Ontario.