Christ is Risen! Alleluia!!

Kenora                  Easter Sunday

Year B

4 April 2021

Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Acts 10:34-43

Mark 16:1-8

Love divine, in raising Christ to new life you open the path of salvation to all peoples. Send us out with the joy of Mary Magdalene to proclaim that we have seen the Lord, so that all the world may celebrate with you the banquet of your peace. Amen.

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Today is the most amazing day of the Christian calendar, but I’m not telling you anything new.

Today, the women who go to the tomb become our first proclaimers of the resurrection.

Today we see Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to the tomb to properly clean and prepare Jesus body for burial, only to discover that this task isn’t needed because Jesus isn’t there.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” (Mk 16:5-6)

But this doesn’t mean that today’s text is ‘normal’ in any way. Rather we see the full gamut, the full spectrum of human emotion as well as the fact that these three women are commissioned to be the bearers of the news of the resurrection, the Gospel, the Good News.

The day begins with mourning and sadness, as they go to the tomb. These women watched, on Friday, as Jesus died on the cross.

They watched as Jesus was laid in the tomb without the proper preparations for burial, and they made plans to return, today to do what couldn’t be done on Friday.

And, so, today they return to the tomb to perform the last loving acts for our Lord and Saviour, only to discover the stone is rolled away, and Jesus isn’t there.

Rather they encounter the young man dressed all in white.

So, now, we see these emotionally drained, grieving women are confused. Things aren’t as they expected and to add to the confusion, is the revelation, and the message the young man gives to them, to proclaim to Jesus’ followers.  

The heart of today’s message is here, in the words of the young man: Look, See, Go, and Tell.

But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mk 16:6-7)

In one fell swoop, they’ve gone from grieving women out to fulfill a woman’s role to prepare a loved one for their eternal rest, to women commissioned by their witness of Jesus’ resurrection as they’re asked to carry this news out into the world.

And this is frightening!

Those of us called to Ordained Ministry, to Holy Orders we do this by discerning where and how we are called to serve, and our preparation for such roles then follows from that discernment.

But such discernment isn’t just for the clergy in our lives, rather it’s a level of discernment that all Christians need to embrace, and in which we participate to discover if such a path is for each of us, and a path that possibly we’ve not considered before.

And the path to fulfill such a call is often as unique as those of us who are called to fill these roles. But for the two Mary’s and Salome, their path to this life of proclamations has been different.

For these ladies, in the past three years, they’ve heard Jesus’ teaching, and they’ve seen his healing of all who come to Jesus, from the sidelines, from the point of view of those ministering to Jesus, and to the apostles.

But that doesn’t mean they’re unprepared.

Rather it means that this path that they’re being asked to walk is unexpected to them, but not to God.

It means that when Paul tells us: “28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) we’re living this out to the world when we listen to where the Holy Spirit leads, and bravely step into the paths that are laid before us.

And we see that lived out here, today, in the vacant tomb.

We see that lived out in the unexpected acknowledgement of the role the women play in spreading the greatest news; the news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

“They saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mk 16:5b-7)

But saying that doesn’t mean that they’re prepared for this sudden shift to centre stage in their lives.

The gospel tells us that “8 they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mk 16:8)

And, having read this, we also know that, at some point not too long after this encounter in the tomb, they do proclaim the risen Christ.

We know that they do proclaim that Christ has gone before them to Galilee because the gospel tells us this, and yet the honest, raw emotion of the ladies’ experience in the unexpected turn of events, today, is here.

So, then, how are we able to live into this text in each of our own lives?

What does this look like from our perspective, when we stand in the door of the tomb, and hear the words of the resurrection, yet are asked to share that good news?

What does it look like when we, in the tasks of our lives, find ourselves called to share the glory of God, the love of Christ, the miracle of the resurrection?

How do we feel?

How does such a task to proclaim our faith to those most in need of our witness, our words affect the next steps in our lives?

The women find themselves confronted with the commands to Look, See, Go, and Tell, and they’re initially overwhelmed. But we know they did go and tell what they saw, heard, discovered and were told, or the gospel would have ended with Jesus’ burial on Good Friday.

And what if we find ourselves called to live that message throughout every facet of our lives?

We at St. Alban’s, in Kenora, are blessed in our worship and ministry leadership, both lay and ordained, past and present.

And I’m sure, that, if asked, all of our clergy and our lay leadership would gladly tell of how they heard these same words from the angel messenger, this call to their roles of leadership, to Look, See, Go, and Tell and how it’s changed and continues to change our lives.

But it’s not just the clergy, and the acknowledged lay leadership, who are called and who need to discover how we are called to be here, today, in the life of St. Alban’s. And this brings the question back to each one of us.

We stand in the doorway of the tomb, hewn in stone.

We’re the ones who are already amazed that the stone has been rolled back, and we’re flabbergasted as the messenger invites us into the tomb to see where Jesus had lain.

But now comes the challenge.

Now comes the next step, and how we deal with that is up to each one of us.

We, each one of us are sent out.

We’re sent to tell those we love, those we care about, those we know and those we meet that Christ died on Friday, but that today God raised him from the dead, to break the bonds that have, up to this point, been a barrier between each of our lives and hearts and God’s love, whether we were aware of it or not.

And the question we face is how, and in what capacity, are we called by God, commissioned by the messenger, to spread this message?

How will we share this revelation to the corners of our lives, our communities, our world?

Not just because it’s Easter, but because this is what we are Called to do, always.

Amen.

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Seeing Passover through New Eyes

Kenora                  Maundy Thursday

Year B

1 April 2021

Exodus 12:1-14

Psalm 116:1, 10-17

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

O God, on the night he was betrayed Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and gave himself in a meal of bread and win. May we who celebrate these signs of his love, serve and give ourselves to others in his name and to your glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Looking at all the ways the world has changed because of the pandemic in our midst, I was reminded that a year ago, we were all looking forward to the flattening of the curve on the spread of the coronavirus, and we had the anticipation that we’d all be able to be back together for Easter.

A year ago, we were in the midst of a nationwide lockdown, and we were anxiously looking at the news. We were trying to find as much information as possible, while blaming bats for the disease that has, since become a global pandemic, and continues to influence all of our decisions and how we live our lives ever since then.

So, if we look at it, we’re held in bondage.

We’ve become slaves to the coronavirus.

It’s the only way I can find to define the fact that this disease and our attempts to hold it at bay dictates what we can and can’t do. It tells us where we can and can’t go. It tells us who we can and cannot associate with in all levels of our lives.

The coronavirus has for the past year, and even through tomorrow, at this point, continues to dominate absolutely every aspect of our lives, and our livelihoods.

We are, or have been forced to become, slaves to it in order to slow the spread, to keep the numbers of those affected to a minimum, and to come through this with as many of us still standing, shoulder to shoulder when this all passes.

And this may have been the thought pattern as life for the Hebrew people, in Egypt, the early days of slavery, as well.

And if we’re able to look at our own lives in this way, then perhaps we can look at the reading from Exodus, for tonight, with new eyes and a new understanding.

The Hebrew people, the descendants of Abraham, have lived, in ever-increasing degrees of slavery, ever since one pharaoh realized that there were more Hebrew people than Egyptians, and he felt threatened.

Each generation experiencing more harsh conditions than the generation before, until their prayers reach God, who sends them Moses to guide them out of slavery and into a life lived as God’s people.

In a way, it’s like our attempts to hope that the virus will be cleared up in just a few weeks if we stayed home and washed our hands, and yet, here we are a year later, still in the midst of the same struggle, and feeling worn by the experience.

But at the same time, we realize that the world carries on and that we need to continue to live. At such times, then came the guidelines about the masks, out of that need to continue to live and to live in the world we accepted the covid related questions, the restrictions, the distancing, all on top of the handwashing and the continuous urges to stay at home.

So, in tonight’s reading then we see the list of instructions that the Hebrew people are given on how to be prepared for their period of bondage, of slavery to end, and each plague that has visited Egypt. And this is the preparation, the necessary steps needed in order to survive the 10th plague. And if we look back at the previous chapters, each plague that has affected Egypt has been worse than the one before it.

In tonight’s reading we see the last of the plagues. We see the worst of the worst because humanity, Pharaoh has picked this plague.

Tonight’s plague is the death of the firstborn of every person, every family, every clan, every nation in Egypt, handpicked by Pharaoh, himself, to ultimately break the will of the Hebrew slaves, forever.

And we see that God’s instructions are both extensive and unique. The people are told:

  1. Get a lamb without blemish or disfigurement.
    1. Share with neighbours if there’s too much for a single household.
  2. After 14 days of looking after your lambs, everyone slaughters their lambs together.
    1. Take some of the blood and paint the doorposts and lintels of your houses
  3. Roast the lamb, whole. (And God means whole! And roasted!!)
  4. Serve the roast lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
    1. Eat it standing up, in a hurry.
    1. Eat it as if you’re prepared to rush out of the house and begin a long journey, tonight.
    1. Eat it with shoes on your feet, and a walking stick in your hand.
  5. Any leftovers are to be burnt. (Ex 12:3-11a)

And while the people are occupied with all of this, God sends the Angel of Death to fulfill the conditions of the last plague.

While people are occupied with the restrictions of slavery and with the conditions God set for the very first Passover, God is busy changing the world, changing people’s lives, and changing all of our hearts.

But that doesn’t mean that any of it was easy, or even made sense to them until after the fact.

Yet it’s what was decreed by God to identify those of the Hebrew people were wearied by a life lived in slavery, and were ready to listen to Moses, and Aaron.

They’re ready to follow where and how God leads into a life of freedom.

And we are able to understand this, these days, and if all it took to overcome the virus was a lamb dinner, eaten while preparing to go on a cross country hike, while we’ve painted the doorposts of our houses with the blood of the freshly slaughtered lamb, then how many of us would be online looking for sources of fresh locally raised lamb?

How many of us would be searching out sources of bitter herbs? And buying our favourite crackers?

The point is that God continues to look out for each one of us. That God continues to hear our prayers, our laments, and guides our live all the while encouraging us in ways that will help our neighbours and the world in need.

I found it incredible, and yet wonderful, last spring, when the overall levels of pollution dropped and the water cleared all because industry had ceased, in its temporary effort to stop the virus, to flatten the curve, so that they could then return to business as usual when those same restrictions eased.

So, if we’re talking bondage, perhaps we’re also in bondage, not just to the virus, but also to the products of industry and how it’s meant to benefit our lives, but at what cost?

But we’re still here, so I can, in all confidence, say that despite the restrictions that we continue to face, that continue to challenge us and our ideas of personal freedom and choice, we’re still loved by God.

We can say, with all confidence, that God still surrounds us, guides us, encourages each one of us, to look out for our neighbours.

God still watches over us, and continues to teach each one of us, and perhaps this time, our lesson is to learn how to let go of what doesn’t make our lives feel enriched, in order to make more room for the love of God in our lives, in the world, and in our actions.

We see it start in the passage, for tonight, from Exodus when God provides a loophole for all who believe so that Pharaoh’s plague doesn’t affect the Hebrew nation in the way Pharaoh had thought, in the depths of his frustration and fear filled heart.

Exodus tells us: “12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Ex 12:12-13)

We see it in the reading from 1 Corinthians, when Paul tells us about the Lord’s Supper, the new covenant in his flesh and blood represented in the bread and wine of this same Passover feast.

A new covenant to represent all of us for whom Christ dies on the cross and rises from the dead. “26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26)

And we see it in the example of service that Jesus gives us, as our Lord and Saviour kneels before each one of us, and washes our feet, setting the example of what we are to do for each other, and for our neighbour in need.

12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (Jn 13:12-15)

And Jesus also tells us: “34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (Jn 13:34)

So, we’re able to acknowledge that although we’re currently in bondage to the coronavirus, we know that it wont last forever.

And in the meantime, we’re supported and loved by God, even when we chafe at the restrictions that are meant to ensure that we’re able to weather this time in our lives, as well.

Because on Easter Sunday, the sun will rise. The stone will be rolled back, and the tomb will be found empty. And we will discover the true gift of God is not only each other, but the promise of the empty tomb which breaks the bonds of sin and death that still strive to hold our hearts, as well.

Amen.

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A Messiah for All

Kenora                  Lent 5

Year B

21 March 2021

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51:1-13

Hebrews 5:5-10

John 12:20-33

God of glory, your revelation through Jesus Christ calls into your covenant of love. Enable us now to reflect your love, so that barriers erected by sin may be broken down, and all people may be drawn to you; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

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Looking at today’s gospel, we’ve got a lot going on, it seems.

We’ve got Greeks wanting to see Jesus.

We’ve got Jews/locals confused that Greeks, that outsiders want to see Jesus.

We have Jesus speaking prophetically.

We have Jesus being troubled because he knows what’s coming. And we hear the voice of God, interpreted by the masses as either the words of an angel, or as thunder.

All together, if this were the first time that we experience this text, it could be seen / heard / interpreted as confusing! But two phrases, in today’s gospel, jump out at me and they’re more connected than the Greeks or Apostles think, today.

The gospel tells us: “24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. … 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Jn 12:24, 32)

Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen or heard or experienced the simile of wheat being sown. The other gospels give us the parable of the sower where wheat is cast on different kinds of ground, by the sower, and we are told how that, being the word of God, takes root in our hearts, and grows in our lives. (Mt 13, Mk 4, Lk 8)

But here, it’s the imagery that Jesus draws, today, that we gravitate to as Jesus says it to those within hearing distance. As Jesus, in this way describes that to effectively spread the gospel, it’s not just one person to do this.

Jesus tells us: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (Jn 12:24)

And I was thinking of this idea. For the sower, he has the expectation that the grain that is sowed will die and will sprout up in new life, and will produce much fruit.

For someone watching the sower, if they’re not familiar with the idea of growing things from seed, then this will be a puzzling action by the sower, and what sprouts and grows and produces fruit is miraculous.

But what if it’s looked at from the perspective of the wheat? The wheat knows the sower will plant it in the earth, and that with the warmth of the sunshine, the water of the rainfalls and the action of the earth itself, that it will die, but in dying transform into new life, and in that new life bear much fruit. 

So, if we see ourselves as the grain of wheat, if we see Jesus as the grain of wheat, then we are all being transformed into so much more than we could ask or imagine, but at the same time we produce much fruit.

And then, a further extension is that Jesus is telling each one of us, he’s telling the Greeks, the Apostles, and those who are gathered about Jesus, that we all have a valid story to tell.

That we are the ones who are able to share the love of God, the healing of our own lives and hearts because Jesus is a part of each one of us, because we are transformed by the love of God, in the same way that Jesus is transformed, in the same way that the love of God transforms each one of us in our own lives.

At the same time, Jesus tells us that the one person who starts all of this needs to get out of the way for the sharing of the gospel to be more effective.

In some ways it reminds me of that old shampoo commercial: “you tell two friends and they tell two friends and so on, and so forth.”

Jesus is telling us, the Greeks, the Apostles, and everyone else gathered to hear Jesus, to be healed by Jesus, to be inspired by Jesus, to be fed by Jesus or even for reasons that they cant elucidate, that the sharing of Jesus words, parables, message that the kingdom of God has come near is more effective if it’s more than one person sharing the message.

But as long as Jesus is with us, we turn to him. We turn to the voice of God’s wisdom and love instead of stepping into the fray and sharing God’s love with all whom we meet in our daily routines.

And I know that some of you will say this is the role of the clergy, in the same way that people want clergy to pray in public, or to say grace at a meal.

Sure, we can do it.

But we’re only one voice and all of the people saying “amen” to such prayers are so many more voices that have the same opportunity to share the love of God, the words of God’s salvation, of Jesus teachings, in places where clergy aren’t always found.

Maybe there’s someone who needs to hear your story. Maybe they need to hear how God moves in your life, to hear how the love of God the teachings of Jesus have informed you, and continue to lead you each day.

Maybe someone needs to hear your story so they can see how God is moving in your life as well.

Maybe you, too, are a grain of wheat that’s about to be transformed into a stalk bearing much fruit?

But today, before the Greeks, the Apostles, and the locals, Jesus makes his message even clearer when he says: “32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” (Jn 12:32-33)

And in this we can recall the crucifixion, we can recall the jeering of the crowds, and yet the faith of the centurion, of the thief, of those passersby who believed instead of criticized.

As he told Nicodemus, in last week’s gospel, like the serpent in the wilderness, he will be lifted up and all who look on him will have new life. (Jn 3:16-17)

But the way Jesus approaches this is equally as intriguing as the words he chooses, today, and yet, its contingent on the fulfillment of the image of the grain of wheat falling to the earth.

So, then, this is our primary image, today. Here in the early spring, as the snow leaves our lawns, as we start to think green and growing thoughts, waiting for the frost to leave, and the ground to dry, we’re presented with the image of a grain of wheat falling to the earth, dying, yet in that dying being resurrected to new life, a life that produces much fruit.

And in this way Jesus is telling us that each of us has a unique way to tell someone else how Jesus has changed, and continues to change each of our lives.

Each one of us has and continues to have a unique relationship with our Lord and Saviour, and we have our own way to share that unique relationship, that path of salvation, that way to be drawn to Christ, as he is lifted up.

Jesus reminds us that unless a grain of wheat dies, it remains a grain of wheat. Sure, it’s good in bread, but as a growing seed, it doesn’t reach its potential to inspire each of us to become a grain of wheat in our own right, to bear much fruit of the spirit.

And in that spirit, once again, Jesus tells us that his journey leads to the cross. That this journey isn’t for his glory but so that each of us can face a better tomorrow than we have seen today.

So not only does the grain of wheat need to fall, but we need to see the Christ lifted up, we need to be drawn to him, not in the macabre experience but in the transformative experience of the grain dying and becoming something new.

And in such an experience, then we are also transformed. We recall the steps that God took in order to break the bonds of sin and death.

We relive the crucifixion, not just in memory of God’s love for all of humanity, not to remember that not everyone mourned the loss of the Christ. After all some celebrated it, as well.

Rather Jesus foreshadows all of this in today’s gospel because Greek’s have come and want to speak with him. They want to learn from him. They want to take his teachings home and share them with everyone they meet along the way, and everyone they know at home.

And in our lives, we do the same. We share the stories of how our lives are touched, and how Jesus is at the centre of those changes.

We spread the grains of faith in fields that will bear fruit, but in that it will be transformed, and transforming for both the seed and the field, and God’s love continues to guide both. All we have to do is tell our story and the seed is sown.

Amen.

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Light in the Darkness

Kenora                  Lent 4

Year B

14 March 2021

Numbers 21:4-9

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

Ephesians 2:1-10

John 3:14-21

God of grace, you know our struggle to serve you: when sin spoils our lives and overshadows our hearts, come to our aid and turn us back to you again; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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“And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.” (Jn 3:19)

Jesus says this to Nicodemus. He says this to a leader of the Sanhedrin, a leader of how faith is lived out in Israel during Jesus’ day.

We find a lot of words from Jesus, from Nicodemus struggling to understand. A lot of words that are meant to urge us to see our own situations not according to our own terms but in terms of how God sees how we live our own lives.

And a lot of the images of light and darkness that we find in today’s gospel, is Jesus describing the situations of our own hearts to Nicodemus who, in his own life, is seeking the light.

But these day’s we’ve been dealing with the fear of Covid, with the sadness caused by losses of friends and family as well as contact with friends and family as well. We are grieving the loss of routines and the easy way we lived our life before covid came along and changed absolutely every facet of our lives more than we would have imagined a year ago.

In the past year, even for those of us who yearn for the light, it feels like we’re living in the darkness. A darkness of our own grief, of our own longings, of our own sense of loss from absolutely every aspect of our lives.

And because of that we see even more darkness around the edges. A darkness that enters and enlivens our fears and grief and sense of loss and it makes us think things that, truly aren’t worthy of each one of us – children of God – seekers of the light – followers of Christ.

We know the light exists but it’s been our habit to worship together, to be in each other’s company, each other’s lives as well as each other’s hearts. And this is where the covid restrictions and guidelines has really ‘done a number’ on us and on our lives.

But this is where we look at our hearts and we see Jesus at the centre of our lives and hearts urging each one of us to remember that the light is still all around us, even if we have trouble seeing it because of covid grief and loss, and the changes that have set in, in the past year.

Looking back, a year ago, up until this time, we had the doors open. We had a full choir; we shared the duties of worship with more people than we’ve been able to keep on a regular rotation since Covid changed our lives.

But there’s more than that.

In the past year we’ve lost a sense of ourselves as we hunker down and focus on what’s not here, on who’s not here any longer.

I have to admit that at this time last year, I was still ‘getting my feet wet,’ in the life of the parish, and I found this to be quite an intimidating place.

I felt overwhelmed by the size, and by the ornamentation of the space. I felt my stature was too small to sand where I stand, to sit where I sit, to be worthy of being the next priest at St. Alban’s.

But the congregation was warm and welcoming and encouraging in this new circumstance, in my life, and in my sense of call.

And then Covid hit, and I found myself the only one here, because of the Covid restrictions, still struggling to understand what ‘normal’ means here at St. Alban’s. Struggling to understand who we are, how we lived into the promises of God, and how to live those promises to the world around each one of us.

And, because of Covid, the world turned, and we all, me included, suddenly felt at a loss. We felt cut off from absolutely everyone and everything, but at the same time we felt it would be alright, it’ll only be a few months, right?

So, we hunkered down, and thought it all temporary and soon we’d be back to open doors and full choirs and coffee hours, and all of the rest of the activities and meetings, and work that continues to be St. Alban’s.

But that didn’t happen, either, and we felt the darkness get a little closer to our hearts.

Instead Covid continues to be an invasive pattern to the normal life. It continues to affect our lives like a blanket of darkness, as we all wear our emotions a little closer to the surface, these days.

And yet Jesus reminds each one of us that “17 God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:17)

And then my heart wonders how life would have evolved, last spring, if Covid hadn’t forced us apart, forced us to break the patterns of our lives, forced us to feel we’re in the darkness?

But here we are, a year later, a year into the Covid lockdowns attempting to find the light but being tripped up by the darkness.

So, we turn to Jesus words. We return to the conversation on the roof top with Nicodemus, and we like Nicodemus strive to come into the light, to follow the voice of our shepherd, to be together, once more.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)

Maybe, we need to look beyond our own definitions of what it means to be who we are and where we are because with Covid none of us, who long to live in the light, feel like we’re succeeding.

The way Covid 19 has pulled us out of our normal patterns has been endemic of absolutely every aspect of our society. It’s made us feel doubt and suspicion toward those who don’t necessarily look or act like we do.

So, Jesus is right when he says we more willingly gravitate to the darkness than the light, but we feel that we strive for the light and get sidetracked, tripped up, or tricked into the darkness.

And this isn’t something I’m comfortable pondering because when we live in the shadows, when we gravitate to the darkness then we’re able to see those we classify as ‘other’ around every corner.

But this isn’t what we desire. If this were the case, we wouldn’t find Jesus in conversation with Nicodemus. We wouldn’t be pondering the darkness of the world.

Life doesn’t always go the way we want. If it did, covid would be over. If it did, then only the good that we desire would be what we do.

If it did then everyone would be living in a state of innocence as Adam and Eve did before the incident with the fruit in the Garden of Eden.

But instead, the fruit was eaten. Humanity developed and moved into the idea of Free Will, and we struggle with the ideas of light and darkness, not as they apply to day and night but as they apply to our intent and our actions in and toward each other.

But it’s not a dead end. If it were then God wouldn’t have sent Jesus. If it were then the world would be permitted to descend into it’s own quagmire, but instead, that hasn’t been God’s agenda.

Yesterday’s devotion from Forward Day by Day reminds us: 

“God provides. In this season of Lent, in this time of fasting, God provides.

When we pray, God provides. When we least expect it, God provides. When we don’t deserve it, God provides. When we find ourselves between jobs, God provides. When we do not know the right decision to make for our lives, whether to abandon one project in favour of another, God provides.

When there are structures built all around us, pulpits for some and dungeons for many others, God provides. When we do not do things the way others want us to, God provides. When we sing after much time apart, God provides.

When we see God, God provides. When we feel that we have had enough, God provides. When we do not know where we are, God provides. When we are home, God provides.

When we are at peace, God provides.”

And at the same time Jesus reminds us: “16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus shows us that, although it might be hard to perceive through our grief, through our angst at the covid restrictions, that the light is still all around us, and that we continue to be worthy of such attention.

We, and Nicodemus, seek the light, and we recall that God provides the way. All we have to do is hold tight to the light that lives within each of our hearts, and shines brightly from each of our actions.

Although it might feel like it, we know that Covid wont last forever.

Although we feel like life will never be what we might describe as ‘normal,’ we know that won’t be true, in the long run, either.

And we know that “16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)

Amen.

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Wisdom and Foolishness

Kenora                  Lent 3

Year B

7 March 2021

Exodus 20:1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1:18-25

John 2:13-22

God of the covenant, give us zeal to discern the foolishness and the wisdom of this present age, so that we may proclaim Christ crucified; to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be honour an glory,  now and forever. Amen.

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I find that this is one of the more fascinating depictions of Jesus in the gospels, and here we have it on the 3rd Sunday in Lent.

On the 3rd Sunday of our intentional walk at Jesus side as he goes to the Cross. On the 3rd Sunday of Jesus telling us, plainly, who he is and whose.

And today we see Jesus causing a ruckus in the outer courts. We see him loosing his temper. We see him by modern definition being violent, and this is such a different depiction of Jesus from what we usually envision, when we do think of him.

So then, when we think of Jesus, what when we envision, more often than naught, we focus on his work, of healing and teaching.

We look to his love and compassion for all of humanity. There is a great thought in art, in recent years, that shows us Jesus laughing and smiling and can be found by google “Laughing Jesus”.

When we focus on Jesus we concentrate on his kindness, his charity, his compassion, his work with lepers, with outcasts, with those on the outskirts of society.

We focus on his pointed comments to and about the Pharisees. But we don’t ever gravitate to the idea, the fact that Jesus becomes angry.

In the depths of trying to focus on the human part of Jesus, on the emotions and actions we can emulate in polite society.

We often forget that he’s working for social justice and equality for all. In everything he does, Jesus is working to tear down the barriers that separate one person from another, whether that’s because of physical infirmity or occupation or status in society.

After all, in the kingdom of heaven, everyone is equal to everyone else.

And if we look closer at the images in today’s gospel, it tells us that Jesus, in the outer courts of the Temple, in Jerusalem, made a whip of cords.

14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”” (Jn 2:14-16)

So, whether it’s a spur of the moment event, or whether he took the time to craft the whip, today, we see Jesus in full blown righteous anger.

The gospel tells us: “13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. ” (Jn 2:13-15)

And really what is Jesus’ anger focused on?

The gospel tells us that he says to those selling doves: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (Jn 2:16b) So maybe we need to look further afield for the source of his anger than just making peoples offering acceptable to the temple authorities.

Now, although we can’t say this definitively, we are able to hypothesize that this isn’t a new implementation at the Temple in Jerusalem, at Passover, this year. A process to exchange the Roman currency for the more acceptable denomination and currency of the temple.

A process to provide acceptable livestock, the best available livestock for sacrifice, and for Passover: sheep, goats, cattle, doves. Animals that haven’t been driven from home bases for days, or weeks, or longer through rough terrain and lack of water to reach the steps of the temple, loosing their beauty and luster, their fatness in the long dusty miles between home and Jerusalem.

Really, Jesus would have seen this kind of trade around the temple since he was a child. But it seems something has changed.

When one goes to the marketplace, that’s the place where the phrase “buyer beware” comes into play.

In the marketplace you find sellers, still today, whose major driving idea is to get as much of your financial assets from you, while giving les than full value for your dollar in return.

So, from Jesus point of view, perhaps he’s seeing such marketplace practices taking place in the courts of the temple.

Perhaps Jesus sees the uneven scales in use, the shorting the customer of correct change and other such practices when the faithful come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and expect fair transactions so that they can fulfill their religious duties.

They’ve come to fulfill the rites of faith with a sheep or a goat without blemish that may be shared with family and friends so that everyone recalls that they were once slaves in Egypt. They’ve come to offer sacrifice for sin, for new birth, and for the women’s rites to be returned to the bosom of their communities and families after childbirth.

At Passover, they gather as families, as neighbourhoods, as a nation to recall that it’s through God’s efforts that they are free to be the people of God according to the covenant, the promises made with Abraham and his descendants.

So, naturally, causing a stampede of livestock, the chaos of a man with a whip of cords being unpleasant to everyone.

Jesus is used to the idea that money travels easier than livestock, but to take advantage of those who have travelled many days or weeks to get to Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover with friends and family, to make that possibly once in a lifetime trip to Jerusalem is what he is protesting, here, today.

When we put profit before the person then we don’t see them. Rather we see what they bring to the bargaining table, and in such circumstances, the unethical, the unscrupulous, those who see a distinction between the populous because of accent or language is what Jesus protests, today.

With a whip of cords, as he drives out the cattle, the sheep and the goats. With his hands, he heaves up the tables of the money changers, scattering the temple coin equally with the coin of the realm.

With his whip and his hands and his feet he would break the crooked scales, and destroy the weights that are improper.

He makes a mess; he causes more chaos and he just want’s people to be treated like people. To be treated fairly, to be dealt with honestly no matter who they are or where they come from, because here, in the temple, in the church, in our homes and in our lives, we are children before God.

And this brings the matter before each one of us.

How do we treat all of the people we see in the community? Do we treat them with equity and with fairness? Do we put hurdles in their way to achieve this or that goal, or service?

Do we see one set of rules for this group and another for that?

Now, I admit, that I’m a little more apprehensive when I see out of province license plates on vehicles, in this time of Covid. After all, for the past year we’ve been emphasizing the need to maintain physical distance between individuals, and to not encourage tourism or travel other than what is strictly necessary.

So, then, the sight of an out of province plate causes a bit of anxiety, for me. But on the other hand, what if they’ve been stuck here because of lockdowns, or because of covid restrictions where they call home? What if they’re the stranger in a strange land, who has been here for the past year and is waiting for the all clear to be able to return home.

After all this is a theme we’ve seen in the Old Testament. When Moses runs away from Egypt and forms a life amongst the Midianites he declares he is an alien in a foreign land, as he made a new life, there. (Ex 2:22)

When we think of Jesus’ life and ministry, it’s so much more than just the love of God, and the healing of those on the outskirts of society. Rather it’s also the righting of practices that are just out to jilt anyone who is unwary and unaware.

The gospel reminds us that Jesus comes in righteousness and in strength to fulfill the law.

So, how is it in each of our lives? Do we live by the law, or by the gospel? Or do we look for the loopholes so that we are able to come out ahead, at the expense of others? Are there places in each of our lives, our hearts, where we emulate the money changers and the sellers of livestock, instead of Jesus?

What in each of our lives needs to be overturned so that we are able to look with love and fairness on the stranger in our midst and to welcome them with the same welcome we give to close friends and family?

As Jesus drives out the livestock and the money changers, as he overturns the tables, and calls us all to account, we remember that he’s here to break down the barriers that exist between each of our lives and God.

Because we, no matter who we are or where we are in life, or where we come from, we are loved by God, and that’s good enough for Jesus.

Amen.

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Divine Things Are Not Human Things

Kenora                  Lent 2

Year B

28 February 2021

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Psalm 22:22-30

Romans 4:13-25

Mark 8:31-38

Faithful God, may we set our minds and wills to yours, and take up our cross, following Christ with confidence for the glory you reveal in him; who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Today the gospel, Jesus tells us: “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mk 8:33b)

When we look at the readings for today, this is a rather profound view, especially when we know Jesus is talking to the disciples in general and peter in particular.

What Jesus is telling us is that it’s a this or that type of dichotomy, and one that easily confounds each and every one of us especially when we try to figure out, from our own perspective, which is the human thing and which is the divine.

In fact, for me, it brought to mind a chance meeting, a chance conversation between Howard Stark and Tony Stark in the movie: “Avengers End Game.” (And no, Howard doesn’t know he’s speaking with his son.)

And really what it comes down to was Howard confessing his inability to separate his own interests, agenda from what is best for the nation. Howard says: “let’s just say the greater good has rarely outweighed my own self interests.” (1:43:39)

And if we think about it, this is a rather significant statement.

Overall, Howard has been portrayed as a brilliant, self-giving, philanthropic, playboy billionaire, who is heavily invested in weapons development and sales; shoes that Tony, early in his life, emulated.

But in this moment of self-confession, he admits how own self interests have been the underlying guiding principle more than the needs of humanity.

In today’s gospel, we’re told: “31 Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”” (Mk 8:31-33)

Jesus takes Peter to task because Peter is unable to see the larger picture. He, from our human perspective, is unable to see beyond the cross.

He, and the disciples, only sees the immediate benefits of Jesus’ work for the people. They see those who come injured, confused, burdened and they see them leave refreshed, lightened in heart and mind, and renewed in their relationship with God. They see the effects of Jesus’ teaching, and healing people physically, but God’s agenda is so much greater, wider, than what Peter is able to see because it includes the emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives, of the lives of the people, all around.

At the same time, Jesus points out that the work before them is so much more encompassing that just the one generation of the faithful with whom they’re working.

Jesus says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mk 8:34b-35)

Now, in this passage, Peter gets a whole lot of bad press but I think we can maybe see this more in the same light as the chance conversation between Howard and Tony. They’re talking about family, and about children. Tony has a daughter, at this point in the story, while Howard’s wife is expecting what will be their only child, Tony.

But it’s in terms of legacy, of the future of the world that we so often get things mixed up and confuse our goals and timelines with that of God.

Peter sees how things are going with Jesus at the helm. He see’s people coming to hear him teach. He sees people coming to be healed and to be fed.

Peter only sees himself, maybe as the booking agent, as the guy asking the Covid questions, or maybe as the guy who fetches the coffee. And from his perspective all is going so well that Jesus being persecuted will just destroy all of this good work, not enable the disciples to step into those shoes, after Pentecost, not encompass more than the teaching and healing that they’re seeing from Jesus, at the moment.

But God knows there’s more coming, and Jesus wants to prepare us, the disciples, for the traumatic events to come.

Like all of us, Peter is unable to see, to comprehend God’s plan of salvation, of which this had all been just one step in the divine plan.

“And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” (Mk8:32b)

And in Peter’s shoes, how many of us would have answered any differently?

And I ponder this, sometimes. The ‘what if’s’ that are able to dive through the depths of our imaginations.

So, for a moment, what would the world be like, today, if Jesus had not “[undergone] great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again”? (Mk 8:31b)

If Jesus had not been persecuted, if he had not gone to the cross bearing the weight of our sin, died, and rose again, then his earthly ministry, the preaching, the teaching and the healing would be all that we know of him, if we even know that much.

I mean, sure, he can walk on water, he can calm storms and feed thousands on just a few groceries, but what would our relationship with God be like if the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection had never taken place?

If that had not taken place, does not take place, then the burden of sin that weighs us down like waffles in a waffle iron, would still exist. Because Jesus ministry is among the peoples of Israel and those who live in the region, more than 2 millennia ago, we might not even be aware of him, today, if he had not followed the path laid out for him by God, the path we hear about in today’s gospel.

There would remain a great chasm between us and God, and our only relationship with God would be to beg for forgiveness as we offer sacrifice of more than just time and talent, and we might not know of the greatness of God’s love for each one of us, because we might not remember Jesus and all he gives, and all he does for you and for me, still today.

But this isn’t how Jesus lived out his ministry, his mission as the Messiah, as the Christ. Rather today he tells us what is going to happen, and at whose hands.

But it’s all about legacy. Its about tomorrow being better than today, and it’s how we’re able to help bring about that sense of better, using God’s definition.

And yet, legacy doesn’t just happen. Maybe in the past when children followed their parents into their trades, into their occupations, but that doesn’t happen so easily and seamlessly these days.

In today’s text we see Jesus trying to set up his legacy, but the disciples aren’t cluing in that they are the legacy that Jesus is establishing, and that Jesus death and resurrection are two vital pieces in the establishment of that legacy.

In today’s text, Peter doesn’t yet understand that he and the other disciples are Jesus’ legacy, that it’s through their actions that Christianity takes on form and life and grows beyond the boundaries of Israel, because of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

So, Jesus, being open and frank, and a little miffed that the disciples aren’t getting it, gives us the cross-bearing speech.

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mk 8:34-35)

It’s not a legacy that is bound to just the disciples. It’s not a legacy that is rooted in just one group of people, one ethnic background, one time, or one place. 

It’s not a legacy that you need special qualifications to fulfill. Rather it’s a legacy that calls each and every one of us to live the saving love of God to the whole world.

We continue to be called to heal those who are sick, bring peace of mind to those who are in need, offer the love of God to all who are unaware that it surrounds them, and wants to be a part of their lives as much as it’s a part of each of our lives.

That is the legacy, and it’s only possible because of Jesus’ passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Jesus points out to each one of us that when we focus on the earthly, on the here and now, that we’re looking too closely and we’re missing the big picture, the divine plan.

Yet, God’s plan is so much more than we can ask or imagine. It’s so much greater than a handful of people being returned to wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. So much more than the sharing of the gospel across the Roman Empire.

It’s a plan that’s still in motion today because Jesus was born, taught, loved, and fulfilled the need of God in removing the barriers between humanity and heaven placed there by sin, by error, by mistakes, and by each one of us.

So, here we are.

We’re able to see, to understand the actions of the disciples, of Jesus followers who really don’t want to see their beloved teacher suffer, be rejected, and be killed. And they really don’t understand how anyone would rise from the dead.

We’re able to see and understand Jesus actions as well, but only because we’re coming at this text from many generations of love, of faith, and of hindsight.

Jesus tells us as plainly as he is able that when we focus on the comfort factor of this life, then that is where our heart, our goal, our focus resides.

On the other hand, when we look at where God asks us, encourages us to look we see those who need to be lifted up so that we are all able to walk side by side in the light of God’s love, honouring the sacrifice of God through Jesus Christ, and living that love in our lives and in our hearts, in our actions and in our words, every day.

Amen

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Promises, Promises

Kenora                  Lent 1

Year B

21 February 2021

Genesis 9:8-17

Psalm 25:1-9

1 Peter 3:18-22

Mark 1:9-15

God of the wilderness, your Son battled with the powers of darkness and grew closer to you in the desert: help us to use these forty days to grow in wisdom and prayer, so that we may witness to your saving love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Today I want to talk about God’s promises; promises for which we can see the evidence of it in the pages of the bible.

Promises, that we know have the ability to shape and change our lives, when we adhere to those promise, and the love with which God makes them, not just for you and for me, but for all of creation.

Not just for the people of the time when the promises are declared, but for every one of every time and place from Adam and Eve to the ending of the world.

In the pages of the bible, we see that God’s promises are lasting promises, that they are always fulfilled, and that they are more than we could ever envision, in their outcome.

And our readings, today, all talk about God’s promises. Promises made to us, promises made to all of humanity.

The reading from Genesis reminds us of the promise made to Noah, the promise to never flood the world, again, found in the rainbow that can still be seen in the sky after it rains.

In the gospel, we see Jesus proclaiming the promise of the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. A promise that is able to be fulfilled when we repent and believe in the good news.

We receive the promise of God’s grace through the cross, and through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

It’s only through Jesus’ death that the power of death is able to be overthrown, that the power of sin is able to be broken, forever.

And it’s in the breaking of the power of sin and death that we realize the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven, that we are able to have a right relationship with God, and to receive daily, the gifts of faith and grace that sustain us from day to day.

But what we have to remember is that the promises given, by God, are not given only for those who are in attendance. That would be a very select group, if that were true.

After all, the only humans in the world at the time of God’s promise to Noah and his family were Noah, his wife, his sons, and their wives. If the promise were only for them, then we would not know that the rainbow in the sky is God’s covenant, God’s promise that destruction of the entire world by flood will never happen again.

And when we see the life and ministry of Jesus, when we hear his teachings, see the healings in the pages of the bible. And we know that the promise of the resurrection, the promise of God’s love is not just for those living in 1st century Palestine.

Instead, the promise of the cross is for each one of us; its for all of creation from the breathing of life into Adam and Eve, to the ending of humanity at the end of time.

But God’s promise, found in the cross, is only one part of the entire promise of salvation, of the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven, of living a closer life in the light and love of God.

After all, what good is a world in which we live if we don’t live in the grace of God? What good is having God’s grace available to us if we don’t know how to live within that grace?

So, in s lifetime, in his ministry among us, Jesus continues to teach us. He teaches us about God’s love. He teaches us about God’s compassion, and about God’s desire to be a part of our lives.

But the power of sin and death, the part of our lives that reaches for the ‘shall not’s’ are still at the corners of our minds, of our lives.

It’s like someone on a diet, who knows there is a chocolate bar in the freezer. It plays on the mind, and it works against the good efforts of the diet to encourage the dieter to not eat that chocolate.

Or, it’s like someone who knows that alcohol adversely affects their lives, and yet, they imbibe. And the end result is that the act of consuming alcohol has the ability to affect every aspect of their lives, from their relationships with loved ones, to jobs, friends, and it even has the ability to see them arrested for their behaviour.

Why?

Because like sin, it nags at the corners of our consciousness. Because like most addicts will tell you, one is too many, yet at the same time a million is not enough.

Into this life of the eternal rounds of sin and redemption, of trying to walk the ‘straight and narrow,’ we find the promises that God makes, that Jesus teaches us to appreciate and use. Promises like the one that Noah receives, because God promises mean life for all people. A life lived wholly in the love and grace of God.

At the same time, God knows we have difficulty with the ‘straight and narrow.’ We are easily distracted by everything and everyone around us, maybe that is why God’s promises and the proof of God’s promises are ever before us?

After all, in the face of God’s promise to Noah to never destroy the world in a flood, again, his response was to get drunk, and then to curse the son who discovered his father in such a state.

What had Noah learned? That he has the ability to shape human interaction with such a curse? After all, the race of people cursed was the Canaanite people, named after the grandson of Noah whose father discovered Noah drunk and disorderly.

Into this, we receive God’s promises for our lives.

Into this we see the steps God goes to fulfill this promise, including sending us Jesus, who at the beginning of this ministry declares that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. God’s promise of salvation is before us, and at the same time all around us.

But ‘at hand’ means we still have to strive for it, and desire it in our lives. At the very least, ask for it; and so, we encounter Jesus’ teachings, maybe for the first time.

Yes, we receive God’s promise of salvation, through the cross, but at the same time, God wants to be a part of our lives.

So, along with the promise, we encounter Jesus, the one who can fulfill the promise who take the time to work with us, help us, heal us, show us what a life lived in God’s love looks like and why it is that our heart of hearts desires the fulfillment of this promise so much.

And still God’s promises are before us, and all around us.

We see Noah’s rainbow in the sky, we see the cross before us, always; both promises that assure us of God’s eternal love for us. But how do we know how to appreciate that love? How do we know that those promises exist with out learning or being told?

I remember that a pastor once said that a secret is only a secret so long as you don’t know what it is. And its the same with the loving message of God’s salvation, found in the cross. It’s a secret so long as we don’t know it, or as long as we don’t share it with the world.

And if we don’t know it, how is it able to be a promise, how can it inspire our faith and our love for God, as God strives to give us his grace and salvation?

If we don’t share what we know, then how is this able to be a promise? A message for all of humanity?

After all, we know live in the world, and still in full possession of God’s promise of salvation, and yet, there are people who are perishing. Looking at the situation of the world, we see so many places where God’s promise seems to be unknown.

We see situations in the world where it seems that to lie and cheat are now standard operating practices in order to get into positions of power, and stay there.

Where to unleash armies and mobs against your own people in order to deal with those who don’t agree with your leadership style, where to disrespect other cultures is still a standard operating procedure, and you are able to get away with it as long as the other culture doesn’t discover either your disdain, or their own strength.

It’s this world that needs to be let in on our secret, who needs to be reminded of God’s promises for salvation, for the continuance of the world, for God’s love to be a valid part of our lives as we live these promises to the world around us showing the love of God to those who still need to experience the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven, as we do, living out the promises of God, for each of our lives, and for the whole of creation, every day.

Amen.

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Dust and Ashes

Kenora                  Ash Wednesday

Year B

17 February 2021

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 103:8-18

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

O God, you delight not in pomp and show, but in a humble and contrite heart. Overturn our love of worldly possessions and fix our hearts more firmly on you, so that, having nothing, we may yet possess everything, a treasure stored up for us in heaven. Amen.

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There are a lot of different things we could talk about, tonight as we once again enter the season of Lent. Different ways to look at things, different approaches to the Season that lies before us.

Yet, as we do, we once more, deliberately, change gears, as we seek to acknowledge the cross upon which our Lord and Saviour died so that we might live lives that are free of the burden of sin that is able to separate us from the love of God.

During this season of the church, we are invited to take an intentional step back from the busy patterns of our lives and to re-evaluate how we’re currently living out our faith and maybe how we are able to live out our lives of faith perhaps in a different way.

Both Isaiah and Matthew’s passages, this evening, talk about this ability, this need to step back from the pressures of the world that pull us away from lives of faith, and see how and where things could be a little different.

Then there’s the emphasis of the cross and the actions that took place there. During this season we’ll remember and relive the passion that leads to the cross, Jesus’ crucifixion, and death; and on Easter morning, the joyous resurrection from the tomb.

At St. Alban’s our chancel window gives us an image of the crucifixion and if we look closely we’ll also see the coming of New Jerusalem, but one is contingent upon the other.

New Jerusalem, life lived in the presence of God isn’t possible without the crucifixion, without the journey to the cross, without the season of Lent.

And this brings us back to the readings for this evening, to the emphasis on fasting, on almsgiving (aka donations to charity), on a life of prayer, and seeking out God’s absolution to our own repentance.

Yes, humanity wanders away from love of God and following the ways God sets before us to follow the ways of the world, instead.

Yes, Jesus dies on the cross for you and for me.

Yes, God sees and knows absolutely every aspect of our lives, and this brings us to Paul’s message.

Paul tells us: “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:20b-21)

Paul assures us that God’s work is not only complete but it’s ongoing.

Because of what God has done through the cross, through the life, and the teachings of Jesus we have “become the righteousness of God.” And, as humanity, we need the season of Lent to remind each one of us that Jesus walks this path to, and through, the cross for each one of us.

God tells us, in Isaiah’s voice:

“Yet day after day they seek me
    and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
    and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
    they delight to draw near to God.” (Isa 58:2)

In our busy lives, we need the reminders of Isaiah to bring us back to who we know in our hearts that we are – the children of God, and in the actions and deeds of our lives Isaiah reminds us of the need to set down our errors and our sins, to physically, emotionally, and spiritually return to the love of God.

And at the same time, Matthew reminds us that no part of our lives is outside of God’s sight, yet Jesus continues to encourage us to act with sincerity rather than for show.

He tells us: ““Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. … 19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, … 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:5, 19-21)

And once again, this brings us back to Ash Wednesday, and to Lent.

This brings us back to the season of Lent, to the return of practices that remind us of the depth of God’s love, found in the way of the cross and in the teachings of Jesus.

This brings us back to tonight, to the Rite of Confession and Forgiveness that reminds us that we are the children of God, and that we are loved.

You may not know it but I enjoy doing yoga, and meditation, and I do it online.

One thing that the online instructors in both disciplines tells us over and over is that when one falls out of a yoga pose, or is distracted in the midst of meditating, that the work is to come back into the moment, to come back into the pose, each and every time.

That when we fall out of a yoga pose, or when our muscles quiver from the exertion of holding the pose, they’re learning to be stronger.

Although it’s difficult in such situations, with practice we learn the pose, we learn to stay in the pose, and to move into the next with greater ease and grace than we’ve experienced in the past.

In the same sense, distractions and clutter arise when we meditate, and meditation asks us to ‘be here; be here now.’

Each time you leave the moment is an opportunity to return and each time you return you get stronger and with practice we’re able to stay longer each time.

Likewise, in our lives of faith, we fall away, we fall out of practice; we sin and we create errors, yet we have the rite of confession and forgiveness that has the ability to bring us back into right relationship with God, our creator, and our Father, each and every time.

It brings us back to the imposition of ashes that we use on this night to remind us that God created each one of us, and loves us so much that Jesus dies to break the bonds of sin and death for absolutely everyone who believes.

One day the New Jerusalem will come and we will live forever in the presence of God and of the Lamb in peace and in harmony with all of creation and with each other. But until that day comes, we fall down and we get up.

Until that day, we confess and we are forgiven, we remember who we are and whose we are, and to do this we walk the path of Lent, the Via Dolorosa, the way of Jesus’ passion to the cross because Jesus walked there first.

Paul reminds us of the love God when he tells us:

“we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
    and on a day of salvation I have helped you.””

(2 Cor 6:1b-2)

Paul knows that life isn’t easy and that there are temptations on all sides but that doesn’t stop God from loving us. Rather it makes us forget, in the busyness of life, of God’s love.

So, here we face the season of Lent, once more, here in this place, as well as in our rounds of errands in the world, and in our homes, we are once again encouraged to step back from everything that pulls us away from God’s love, from Jesus teaching.

We are encouraged to remember that God’s love surrounds us and that we are urged to repent and return to the Lord, so that each time we are able to remain in the righteousness of God a moment longer than the time before.

People seem to think that once we are Christians then we are not able to err, that we don’t fall down, fall out of practice, but this just isn’t the case.

Instead, we fall down, we fall out, we get up, we repent and ask God’s forgiveness, and we begin once more.

On this night we remember that we are created by God, that we are guided and loved by God, and that God does everything conceivable to take down the barriers in our lives and in our hearts so that one day the New Jerusalem will be a reality and we will live in the light of God, in the presence of the Lamb, forever.

Amen.

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Changed by Love

Kenora                  Last Sunday after Epiphany – Transfiguration

Year B

14 February 2021

2 Kings 2:1-12

Psalm 50:1-6 pg 768

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Mark 9:2-9

Lord of the mountain peak, whose light reveals the earth to be a dwelling place for love; Lord of the overshadowing, whose darkness confounds the lie that we can possess you: transform our hearts and minds, so that we may listen to him who bears the weight of glory in the lightness of our flesh, Jesus Christ, your Chosen One. Amen.

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Have you ever seen how love is displayed, in the pages of the bible?

We can see it in the readings for today. In the gospel, we see God’s love showcased in the transfiguration of Jesus, as he meets with two of the greatest sages of Israel’s history, as his divinity shines through his humanity for all to see.

We can see it in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as he points out that its our love that is what the world sees shining bright as we are transfigured by the work that is before us, as the love of Christ shines through us for the world to see.

We can see it in Elisha’s desire to stay close to Elijah for as long as they have together, as Elisha permits love to dominate his actions, his path forward in the service of God.

We are surrounded by love, by God’s love. We see it in the relationships we’ve formed, those that have helped us to grow and to develop into the children of God that we are, today.

We see God’s love in the way that we deal with the world around us, in the way that the world responds to our efforts to be the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus the Christ in the world.

We live out God’s love when we follow where the Holy Spirit leads us and to do the work that is put into our hands to do, not just for our benefit, but for the glory of God.

Today we see Elisha striving to stay with Elijah, although Elijah is going where Elisha cannot follow. “Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.” (2 Ki 2:2)

And this pattern is repeated throughout today’s reading. Each time, Elijah seeks to spare Elisha the grief of seeing him leave this world, and each time Elisha clings to the love that is between them, that has enriched their lives, in service to God.

At the same time, Elisha and Elijah are not the only prophets in Israel. Other companies have also seen the signs that Elijah is to soon return to God, and they come to try to comfort Elisha in his impending loss. But Elisha is directed by his sense of love for God, for Elijah, the work they’ve done together.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”” (2 Ki 2:3)

And our pattern repeats, yet what is repeated, over and over, and over again, both within our readings and throughout the pages of the bible is the love that God expresses, that we strive to imitate in our lifetime.

When we think about love, the most obvious that comes to mind are the passages that we turn to for weddings and for times when we join one life to another.

The book of Ruth begins with a heart wrenching declaration of affection, of love, when Naomi urges her daughters in law to seek love and marriage in a different direction. “16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.” (Ruth 1:16-18)

Paul, in the well-known passage from 1 Cor 12:31-13:13, describes the effect that love has on each one of us and on our actions, when we allow love to be our guiding factor.

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)

And yet, the most well-known actions of God’s love is found when we look at the gospels when we see the birth, the teaching, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, not for God’s sake but for your sake and for mine.

In John’s gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:14-17)

The pages of the bible are filled with examples of God’s love for humanity, and humanity’s love for humanity.

Yet, from a human perspective, we strive to use love, twist love, and reconfigure love so that it more imitates what we feel it should resemble instead of striving to be loved by God and reflecting God’s love to the world.

This is something that we don’t come into the world knowing in our minds, but we are able to grasp it with our hearts. Our journey through life, then, is getting our minds to recognize what our hearts know of God’s love and demonstrating that love to the world.

Today we celebrate the transfiguration of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Today we celebrate that he sets his face toward Jerusalem, toward the cross, toward the sacrifice of good Friday that breaks down all barriers and opens the way for us to have a relationship with God.

Throughout the coming season of Lent, when we ponder this sacrifice that God makes on our behalf, that God makes because God loves each one of us.

Remember, God so loves the world, and that love continues today.

Elisha today says, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” (2 Ki 2:2b)

This is God’s message to each one of us, not just today, but every day.

The summary of the law reminds us, every day, to love as we are loved, not just by God, but by each other.

Love defines us. It defines our actions. It defines our reply to the actions of those in our lives.

I love to watch movies as I write, and lately the Disney movie Moana has been playing. It brings to light the idea that we need to know who we are to be the best of who we are, not just for ourselves, but for all those around us, as well. And the best that we are is best revealed in the light of love – our love for each other and God’s love for each one of us.

This is the love we see in the readings today, and throughout the bible.

We see this when we remember the ways in which love has enriched our lives and continues to do this, not just as we gather in our congregations, but as we allow the light of Christ to shine in our hearts and our lives so that the world can see.

As we meet, even by distance and through the reliance upon technology, in this season of Annual General Meetings, we actively seek to discern the will of God, the action of the Holy Spirit in and for our lives, and for the lives of our congregations.

This is the time of year when we, like Elisha and Elijah are able to look backward at what we’ve done, what we’ve experienced, and at the same time we look forward to see how and where God is guiding us into tomorrow, when we look at the will of God through the eyes of love.

The future, the unknown is always a scary prospect, but when stand together, when we embrace the love of God, the assurance that we never travel into the unknown without God in our hearts, then we are able to face the future, and we’re able to see what God wishes us to see, to do, today and tomorrow.

In today’s gospel, Peter James and John are overwhelmed by what they see, by the transfiguration of Jesus, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the mountain top, yet they strive to respond. “Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)” (Mk 9:5-6)

And yet, although they’re afraid, they still hear the voice of God. They still heed Jesus advice, and learn from Jesus teachings.

Although there are times when the love of God struggles to find a foothold in our lives, we are encouraged, every day, to look to love as our guiding action. Paul reminds us: “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:5-6)

We are surrounded with love, in our lives, in our relationships, in the pages of the bible. And that love is from God allowing us to follow where Christ leads, into the arms of God’s love, every day.

Amen.

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R&R – Jesus’ Style

Kenora                        Epiphany + 5

Year B

7 February 2021

Isaiah 40:21-31

Psalm 147:1-12, 21c

1 Corinthians 9:16-13

Mark 1:29-39

Almighty God, by whose grace alone we are accepted and called to your service: strengthen us by your Holy Spirit and make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

__________________________________

Today, I want to look at a very important part of Jesus teaching.

Something that often gets jettisoned from each of our lives at the earliest notion of a busy day, a busy week, or even a busy month.

Today, the gospel tells us: “35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mk 1:35)

The gospel makes a point of letting us know that Jesus got up, went apart from absolutely everyone and everything, and he prayed.

And you have to remember that this is only Mark’s first chapter, which means Jesus has been a very, very busy person as he is baptized, tempted, establishes his ministry and his message, calls his first companions / disciples and begins to get to the work that God needs from the Messiah.

In some ways it reminds me of the efforts of someone starting up their own company, the trials and tribulations along the way. But where Jesus intentionally takes time to rest, rejuvenate, and refocus, humanity often just pushes through until we suffer the ill-effects of our lifestyle choices in the form of burnout or depression.

To put it in modern terms, lets envision Jesus early morning sojourn this way.

After sundown, the people just kept coming to Simon’s house, each one just needing to see the effect of healing in the lives of those who they love. And he couldn’t turn anyone away. It was a long evening of healing people, and talking to them, and casting out demons,

When he had sat with the last person and their family member, Jesus caught a few hours of exhausted sleep on Simon Peter’s couch. The rest of the disciples either went to their homes, or had bunked down in the guest room long before the last of the people came to see Jesus.

Early in the morning, Jesus wakes up, and quietly gets up, puts on a pot of coffee, and after filling a cup, he heads out the back door of the house, and goes up into the hills, and the bush behind.

The sun is just beginning to rise, the light is colouring the sky to the east, and the cool of the morning air still holds sway, causing the coffee in the cup to steam and to his hand, as he walks into the brush and trees.

After going a way into the bush, he finds a clearing where he can sit down, and watch the sun rise, and while he’s there, he prays.

He asks God for direction; he seeks to know the will of God in his next step; he prays for those who are embarking on their journey with him to learn from him, and to take the lead when the time is right.

At the same time, he watches the sun rise. He feels the growing warmth of the day on his face and limbs, he drinks his coffee, and he listens to the sounds of the birds and the small animals waking up and beginning their day.

When the sun is truly up, shining brightly above the horizon, another beautiful day has begun, and the disciples all sweaty and bothered from their search and their concern at waking up and finding him gone, find him here.

Here he sits, calmly finishing his now cooled cup of coffee, and enjoying the bright sunshine on his face, as the birds fly to and frow, the insects are active in the flowers and the trees, and the small animals are looking for their own breakfast. Jesus took an intentional period of Sabbath.

Our gospel tells us: “36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”” (Mk 1:36-38)

Jesus, in the pressures of the day, in the need to find direction, took time apart to pray and to reconnect with the divine so that instead of staying in Capernaum, as the people would have wanted, he knows to keep going, to take his message to the people instead of expecting everyone to come to Capernaum to seek out the Son of Man.

I remember when I was growing up, that my parents would come home from work, and work would stay at their workplaces. Now (yes, I’m about to date myself) this was before the days of personal computers. This was before mobile, cellular, or even cordless phones. In fact, this was just before the cassette tape answering machine entered the house for the first time.

In general, it was a time between the tasks that drew one’s attention out into the world, and the tasks of the home and family.

But at the same time, it was a period of rest, of relaxation, and of regeneration, of sabbath in a daily routine.

And we are able to see this modeled by Jesus, today, as well, as he intentionally takes Sabbath time in his busy life.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Since then, our computers have followed us home, and have begun to dominate our time, and our attention, such practices as I saw modeled growing up seem to be harder to pin down, to make a regular practice and to bring into our lifestyles, these days, as a daily activity.

Add into this the fact that with the pandemic, the continuous use of technology has become our work from home ‘go to’, as well as the consistent way that we’re able to stay in touch with friends and family, and colleagues means that we are accessible to others 24 hours a day 7days a week, even and especially in the midst of Covid practices and isolation.

So, we need to intentionally look at what we learn from Jesus, in today’s gospel. We need to recognize that there is a time for teaching, for healing, and for fellowship, but there is also a time for Sabbath, for regrouping, for coming back to who we are and whose we are.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”” (Mk 1:35-37)

Our world is continually focussed on moving faster and faster. We are increasingly failing to take time to put down our burdens, or remember that we are the Children of God, or to realize the peace that is able to come when we step away from technology altogether, even if its just for a short period of time, but on a consistent basis.

In today’s gospel we see how Jesus is likely overrun by those desiring only to see physical health and wholeness in Jesus actions, they’ve finally found a moment of hope in the thought that their loved ones will be free of illness or demon possession.

Then there are those willing to compartmentalize what Jesus brings to us all who believe, to the whole world in order to see their own desired outcome.

And there are those who would only see the benefit of the tourism dollars of those coming to Capernaum to seek out Jesus the wise healer, and would want to see the community prosper because of those coming to seek out healing and consultation with such a one as teaches as having authority. (Mk 1:22)

I mean talk about a community draw!

But none of this aids the message of the Messiah to reach out to all who believe, and all of the children of Israel.

So, Jesus moves on when the disciples find him in the midst of his time of prayer and meditation, of sabbath.

37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mk 1:37-39)

Jesus reminds each one of us of the need to take the intentional time away from all of the distractions, away from today’s ‘conveniences’ that although not designed to pull us away from our lives as Christians, as the children of God, not to mention from our loved ones and friends do inevitably do that.

Yet we continue to have the opportunity to seek out this sense of Sabbath, this intentional space, this intentional time to set our tasks and burdens down.

We always have this opportunity to lay our problems and our concerns, our loved ones before God, and to allow God to give us answers, direction, and assurance of God’s love.

Jesus came among us to help us to tear down the barriers that exist between us, our lives, our hearts and God.

Jesus came to fulfill the law, yet at the same time he teaches us to love each other as we are loved by God.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” (Mk 1:32-34)

As always, God gives us more than we can ask or imagine, and God has sent us Jesus to teach us to love, to be loved, and to come back to that sense of ourselves as the children of God, as the body of Christ, as the community who gathers, even if its in our own homes, in Sabbath to find a closer relationship with God than we’d ever imagined.

And this is what we need to see, to remember, to understand, and to model not just today, but every day. We are encouraged to take sabbath, to rest, to remember, that God has always and continues to be an active part of each of our lives.

Jesus continues to be an active part of each of our lives because it’s only when we intentionally take the time to return to the natural rhythm of our lives that we are able to feel the movement of the Holy Spirit as we are encouraged to return, and to rest, and to take Sabbath, often.

Amen.

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