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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

It’s the messiest time of the year!

December 25, 2016 1 comment
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THE HOLY FAMILY – the nativity figures are hand carved from some place in Africa (which I realize really doesn’t tell you much, but I can’t remember which country). The doily is from Heidelberg, Germany – a gift from my parents when they returned from a trip to Europe when I was about 16 years old.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the messiness of Christmas.

A young unwed girl becomes pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Today, we would either say the girl is lying or get her psychiatric help. Or both. Mary’s pregnancy could of left her poor and destitute at best, or stoned at worst. I can’t imagine travelling far distances on a donkey – but to do so 9 months pregnant?

Then to be turned away and offered a place with the animals to give birth. Talk about unsanitary conditions! The son of God could have been born in a palace – but a manger was his bed. I watched a funny video of children telling the story of Jesus’ birth and they commented on how Jesus probably “pooed” and it was probably very smelly. Having worked at farms, farm animals are kinda stinky! Not very king-like. Definitely very messy. The son of God not only took on human flesh, but came as a helpless baby, totally dependent on others for his care.

Instead of the elites coming to praise and worship this king, shepherds – smelly, dirty, poor shepherds were the invited guests. I remember reading somewhere that they would not have been allowed into the temple – but they were invited into the miracle and mystery of God becoming flesh.

Then King Herod gets wind that there’s a new king born. He is so intimidated by a little baby, that a massacre of male babies under two is commenced. The “holy innocents” as the church calls them and their families bear the price of human sin, pride and power. Jesus escapes – but as a refugee in another land. Less than two years old, his life is wanted. It definitely wasn’t “the most wonderful time of the year”

This is how God sent his son into the world. Jesus took on human flesh and experienced the vulnerability and messiness we face as humans. This is such a mystery to me that God would choose such a messy way to come into the world. And yet, it is such a comfort and hope to me for Jesus knows my messiness – and believe me, I’m messy! Ultimately Jesus redeems that messiness through the Cross. But I think one of the mysteries of Christmas is that Jesus not only knows our messiness but it experienced it.

And so as I – and people I love – face messiness in our own lives – I take comfort tonight in the mess Christ chose to be a part of out of love for you and me.

 

A Light in Darkness

December 24, 2015 1 comment

 

IMG_0654.jpgThis was a message I shared at a gathering that marked and remembered that Christmas is difficult for many.

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I belong to several Facebook groups and decided to share that I was gathering with some friends tonight to mark that Christmas is difficult and to welcome them to join us. Between the various groups, I got over 100 likes, comments and private messages. Christmas is hard for many people.

Hallmark, TV and the stores try to sell us a story that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – that if we by the right present, hang out with the right person and wear the right clothes this Christmas will be the best Christmas we’ve ever had. And if you can’t do this – Santa will. I remember feeling shocked at a modern Christmas song that says that Santa is the answer to the prayers I’ve had all year. A bit of a strange thought to think that Santa knows my inner desires that well and rather disappointing to think that Santa – the great giver of gifts – will put something under my tree that is the answer to prayers of deep longing.

For any of us who are struggling with loss, depression, estranged relationships, poverty, illness and a whole host of other things life deals us, that kind of Christmas is empty and leaves us wanting. To quote the Grinch – maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe it’s about something more.

I’ve been thinking about the story that is the reason for the season. One of the words of wisdom we read talked about the life-light coming into the world. Christians believe that was Jesus. But what I love about the words that follow the ones we read is that God in Jesus moved into the neighbourhood. God subjected himself to be born of a woman – an unmarried Mary. Stigma and judgment still exist today when a young girl becomes pregnant but back then a woman could be killed. Without Joseph keeping his commitment to marriage, Mary and the baby would have become destitute. He was born in a manger which I am sure looked different than our tidy nativity scenes. I worked on a horse farm for a few years and while these horses were well kept, the barn stunk and I went home smelling like the stinky barn. The first visitors to great this life-light were a bunch of shepherds – people who were so poor they had to sleep out in the fields with their sheep. More than that – they also stunk and were so dirty that the temples would forbid them from entering.

Jesus had a messy start to life – not quite the beginning we would expect for God coming to earth. But the messiness didn’t end there. Around age two, Mary, Joseph and Jesus fled to Egypt because the king in charge felt threatened by this young child and was out to kill him. Jesus as a young boy taught in the temple and his own parents didn’t understand him. He healed the sick and fed the hungry and the religious rulers of the day plotted to kill him.

Jesus lived in the darkness that we live in. He knows what it is like to hurt, to be sad, to be alone. He knows what it’s like to not have a roof over his head. He knows what it is like to be misunderstood by his family. He knows what it is like to be rejected by his friends. He knows political injustice that kills innocent people because of unfounded fears.

As Sufi poet Rumi says, The wound is the place where the light enters you.

I believe that Jesus came to earth as a helpless babe in a stinky manger worshipped by the outcasts and lived a life as light in the darkness so that wherever we are at, we can know a God who understands our deepest pains and longings. I believe that as we open our wounds to a God who knows us and knows what we are going through, the light enters us.

But more than that – Jesus was not overcome by the darkness of this world. The religious and political rulers of the day had their way in putting him to death on the cross. But he overcame death in his resurrection. The light overcame darkness.

And I believe that the light can overcome the darkness in our own lives. That as we let the light into our wounds, that light will fill us and we will become light. We will have opportunities to be light and show light to others walking in darkness. In the end, darkness does not win.

So we gather tonight, in brokenness and pain as Christmas draws near. As Leonard Cohen sings, there’s a crack, a crack in everything. We are not alone in our brokenness. But let us remember that while that crack is there and we may not be able to do anything ourselves to change that – the crack is where the light comes in.

Sermon: Matters of the Heart (Mark 7:1-23)

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A sermon on Mark 7:1-23

Introduction

The season of fall is my favourite season. I love the traditions of getting ready for school, new books, fancy pens and pencils and new clothes. I love the cooler weather and watching the leaves turn colours. I love the smells of pumpkin spice and apple cider.

It’s also the time for one of fashion’s most sacred rules: don’t wear white after Labour Day.

This was drilled into me as a child as we would put away our summer clothes and shoes and polish our black Sunday shoes. Perhaps you are like me, though, following this fashion etiquette without understanding why.

Perhaps you assumed, as I did, that it had some practical reason. Maybe white clothing tended to be lighter or cooler and the darker colours made the colder weather more bearable? Perhaps white shirts showed off your hard earned tan better than darker colours?

However, fashion does not have a reputation for being practical.

According to a Times Magazine article, this was a hard and fast rule for the elite classes by the 1950s and for “those savvy enough to learn all the rules increased their odds of earning a ticket into polite society. “It [was] insiders trying to keep other people out,” “and outsiders trying to climb in by proving they know the rules.” Times Article

Our tradition to put our white clothes away come labour day is away to keep insiders in and let outsiders try to climb in by proving they know the rules.

Pharisees and Their Traditions

The Pharisees and Scribes were obsessed with the traditions of the law – after all, their lives’ work depended upon it. They would have been the ones keeping tabs on who was wearing white after labour day. The Pharisees were the interpreters of the law, trying to interpret how the law could be kept in the current culture by the common people and the Scribes were the teachers of the law and traditions. Before we dive into today’s Gospel reading, it is helpful to be reminded that the Pharisees and Scribes devoted their lives to ensuring that the law was kept – in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20) The trouble with the Pharisees and Scribes, as we shall see, is that they often missed the point of the law and reinforced traditions that enabled them to keep insiders in and outsiders out.

This wasn’t the first time that the Pharisees questioned Jesus. Jesus and his disciples were traveling, teaching and healing the paralytic, demon possessed, sick and unclean. He stilled the storm and fed the five thousand. Meanwhile, the Pharisees were concerned about the disciples not fasting, and picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. Of course, they were more concerned with who these disciples followed, especially as Jesus continued to draw crowds wherever he went.

The author of Mark writes very succinctly and at times very abruptly. Sometimes we go from story to story with a brief “Immediately!” as our only signal. So when Mark provides details, we usually need to pay attention. Whenever the Pharisees and Scribes are mentioned up until our reading today, there is a note that they come from Jerusalem. Jerusalem represents the opposition to Jesus, culminating in the crucifixion. Therefore, the Pharisees and Scribes remind us of the building threat against Jesus.

Let’s take a moment to look at the complaint against Jesus.

The Complaint

The complaint had some validity according to Old Testament laws of touching the unclean for the villages and market places were filled with people who were sick. The verse right before our passage tells us that Jesus and his disciples had been spending a lot of time in such places precisely with such people: Whenever He entered villages, or cities, or countryside, they were laying the sick in market places, and imploring Him that they might just touch the fringe of His cloak; and as many as touched it were being cured. Everything about those encounters would have made the disciples ritually unclean – even the shadow of a Gentile falling across a dish or plate would make it unclean. Jesus and his disciples had spent time with the ceremonially unclean and needed to be ceremonially cleansed.

The greek word used to describe the ceremonial cleansing means “with the fist”. According to one scholar, it “may mean rubbing the fist in the palm of the hand, but more likely involves washing the hands up to the wriist or even using a fistful of water rather than a larger amount.”  (English, The Gospel of Mark) Mark is telling his audience about this tradition perhaps because it is not widespread in the same way that Sabbath is.

What lies at the heart of the dispute, is that Jesus and His disciples did not follow many of the traditions of the elders. These oral traditions were upheld as just as important as the law for they explained how to keep the law, how to be a faithful Jew. For the Pharisees and Scribes, Jesus was rejecting not just their authority on these matters but what it meant to be a Jew in their times. At the very heart of their complaint was the question of who Jesus is – did he have the authority to change the traditions and law at the heart of Jewish society?

Jesus’ Response

Jesus takes a two-prong approach to answering the Pharisees and the Scribes. First, He addresses their concerns directly. Jesus calls them hypocrites because they outwardly honour God but their hearts are far from God. The Pharisees and Scribes are so concerned with oral traditions and interpretations of the law that they miss the point of the law completely. Later, Jesus describes what defiles a person – and it’s not a dirty cup or unwashed hands but a sinful heart.

Jesus then attacks their traditions more generally by looking at how the Pharisees and Scribes use their traditions to invalidate the law. The example Jesus chooses is about Corban, a tradition that has to do with dedicating one’s possessions to God and in doing so, those possessions cannot be used for anyone else. One scholar writes, “If a son made such a dedicatory vow, ancient scribal law of the Jews stated that the vow could not be cancelled, even to support one’s parents with one’s possessions.” So while Scripture says to Honour your father and your mother and he who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death, the Pharisees and scribes created a loophole when it came to their possessions. They could not honour their father and mother if they had previously set aside money or possessions as Corban because that would be breaking a vow before God. In fact, it was possible to set aside all the money that would normally be devoted to care for aging parents. And this was wrong. The Jews were finding ways to not fulfill the law of caring for their father and mother through fancy traditions that would make them seemingly exempt.

What Defiles a Man

Jesus was not about the traditions of the elders but about the heart of the law. He would not care if we showed up in white after Labour Day – or not – but how we would treat one another.

Jesus is not concerned with a dirty cup or plate, or dirty hands from touching the sick or the Gentile. He is concerned with the heart. Jesus gives us a long list of evil thoughts and deeds that stem from the heart -evil thoughts, fornification, thefts, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance and foolishness. While not exhaustive, if you are like me and see yourself somewhere on the list, perhaps you feel the weight of the matters of the heart in comparison to a dirty cup or unwashed hands. Perhaps those traditions – or the rules about when to wear white pail in comparison to the areas of our hearts that need attention.

Our reading in James today takes this a step further. He writes, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. 2-3 Thousand Refugees have been crossing over the Macedonian border each day this week. One man is quoted saying that “we just want our children to have peace and go to school”. Surely James had such situations in mind when he calls for a purity that cares for orphans and widows in their distress.

Application

I don’t have a whole lot of answers for us today. But I do have some questions that I’m going to invite us to reflect quietly on for a few moments.

  1. What traditions do we hide ourselves in so we don’t have to face the real matters of our own hearts?
  1. What ways of Jesus do we uphold as good and righteous to follow while explaining away the ones we don’t like?
  1. Who are the orphans and widows in our society? How do we as a community care for them?

Today’s passage is not an easy one. For it is not as simple as wearing or not wearing white past a certain date. It is not about simply washing hands or dishes. But it is about having a heart that is right with God. And if we are honest with ourselves, we all fall short.

But.

In a moment, we will gather around the table and remember together that

God is steadfast in love

and infinite in mercy

And we can be confident as we confess our sins because he welcomes sinners at his table and into his presence.

Amen.

Living Water – A reflection on John 4

Streams of Living Water
Somewhere on the VIA Train through the Canadian Rocky Mountains, far from any roads, electricity or anything man-made.

It started as an ordinary day for me. I quietly grabbed my bucket and headed to the well in a town called Sychar. I liked this particular well as it was known as Jacob’s well and it reminded me of my ancestry. It was some connection with my people, sometimes my only connection.

See, I’m not really liked in my community. I’ve had more than my share of relational failures. I’ve had five husbands. People aren’t so interested in my story or my thirst for love that has yet to be quenched. I’m just known as that woman. This is why I come to the well at midday. All the other women come at the beginning or the end of the day as it’s much cooler. I can’t handle their whispering any more or their glances as I walk by to get water. So I come at noon. It’s the heat of the day, but at least not many people come. I quietly come and then I leave.

So on this day, I set out as usual to quietly fill my bucket with water and then return to my home. There was a man sitting by the well. I’d never seen him before but he looked Jewish. That in itself was strange – what was a Jewish man doing at a Samaritan well? He must have been travelling from Galilee to Jerusalem. Traveling through Samaria is the fastest route. However, not many Jews actually wander through our land – they take the longer route around us through the Jordan Valley and Jericho just to avoid us. Jews and Samaritans do not get along. In fact, my people tend to attack Jewish pilgrims – we don’t want them here just as much as they don’t want to be here.

As I went to draw water, this man asked me “Will you give me a drink?” He looked tired and I wanted to help him, but I didn’t understand why he was asking me – a woman. Devout Jews are not supposed to be alone with a woman, let alone talk with her. Oh the rumours that would start if someone saw him talk to me! To make matters worse, I’m a Samaritan woman.  Yet, he was asking me to give him a drink. He didn’t have his own bucket or cup – that would mean he would have to use mine. This would be another transgression for a Jew. In my confusion, all I could utter was, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

This man simply replied: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Right, living water. Water that continuously flowed, like water from a stream. We all know that such water is prized – if someone wants to be cleansed or healed, living water is far more effective than stagnant standing water. Very different from the water in Jacob’s well. This man didn’t have anything to draw water! Where can he get this living water? Also, Jacob’s well has been providing water for many, many families throughout the years – how could this man be greater than Jacob who gave us this well?

The man just said, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Never thirsty again? I definitely want that kind of water! I would be quite happy to give up coming to this well in the heat of the day and to not have to face the loneliness and rejection I feel as I try to avoid others each day. So I said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He then got personal – “Go, and call your husband and come back.”

What do I tell him? Will he reject me if he knows my story like all the others have? I want this living water – will he give it to me if he really knows who I am? I decided to be cautious – “I have no husband.”

His response astonished me. “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” He knows me and he’s still talking to me! He hasn’t judged me yet. He said it just as matter of fact with not even a hint of condescension.

I have to say, this was a little too uncomfortable for me. I see He is a prophet. It was time to change the subject. Let’s talk politics – that will definitely steer the conversation away from the ache in my heart! My people have a lot to say on it. When the Jews were rebuilding their temple, we offered to help. But because we didn’t accept all the Jewish scriptures, we were considered heretics and so they didn’t want us to help. Eventually, we decided to build our own temple. The Jews destroyed our temple because there could only be one temple to God and that was in Jerusalem. Let’s see what he has to say to this!

The man then gave a spiel on how a time is coming when we will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. He seemed to be saying that a time is coming when it doesn’t matter the precise location of those who worship. As a woman I don’t have any formal theological training, but I did know that the Messiah is coming and that He would explain everything to us.

And then this man said, “I, the one speaking to you – I am He.”

This man in front of me is the Messiah, the one we’ve all been waiting for. He used the bold words “I am” that the God of my ancestors used.

I ran back into my community. I totally forgot my bucket and what I came to the well for. I also forgot that I was an outcast. I just was so excited – I wanted everyone I met to come and see the man who promised living water, the Messiah who knew everything about me. He knew my heart and its thirst for love and met me where I’m at without judging me. Maybe the living water he provides would purify my heart and heal my deepest wounds.

I wanted to share with them the One who invited even Samaritans to worship the one true God. I wanted everyone to know that He wants to give living water to them too and heal their wounds. That he knows them and loves them, that there aren’t any outcasts in his eyes – he offers living water to all.

This ordinary day and trip to the well turned into one extraordinary day because of this Messiah – because of Him, my life is forever changed!

So will you come and seek the man who told me everything I ever did? Will you drink of his constant, purifying water that will change every part of your life? Will you come to know and believe that this man I met at the well really is the Saviour of the world?