Hearing the Voice of God Rockburn Church Dec 16/18
Luke 1:5-20, 27-38
In a mother's womb were two babies. One asked the other: "Do you believe in life after delivery?"
The other replied, "Of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later."
"Nonsense," said the first. "There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?"
The second said, "I don't know, but I think there will be more light than here. And maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can't understand now."
The first replied, "How absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short, so there's no way there can be life after delivery. Logically it's just impossible"
The second insisted, "Well I think there is something and maybe it's different than it is here. Maybe we won't need the umbilical cord anymore."
The first replied, "Nonsense. And anyway, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and after delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere."
"Well, I don't know," said the second, "but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us."
The first replied "Mother? You actually believe in Mother? What a joke. If Mother exists then where is She now?"
The second said, "She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her, this world of ours could not exist."
Said the first: "Well I don't see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn't exist."
To which the second replied, "Sometimes, when you're in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above."
This little illustration I think shines a light on the fact that humans long to know God but have difficulty connecting with Him. We need God, and whether we are aware of it or not, we want God.
But we have trouble believing in Him. In this age of reason and science, it is hard to convince ourselves that God even exists, let alone hope to hear His voice in our lives. We strain to listen, we try to feel, but often we just can't connect. It can feel like there's a wall or at least one of those blackout curtains hung up between earth and heaven. We have sayings: "seeing is believing" or "a picture is worth a thousand words". Basically we don't believe what we can't see with our own eyes.
But somehow we sense there's more, that there's something more beyond our ability to see. So we pray and pray, and ask God for his leading and direction. But so often we feel we can't hear his voice and don't know which direction to take. Sometimes, we give up and decide since we can't seem to break through, that God, if He is even there, doesn't care, and it doesn't matter. Still, in our innermost parts, we really know that we need to know God.
God SAYS he speaks to us and that we CAN hear His voice. So how then, and what does that look like? How does God make His voice heard anyway?
We read often in the Bible of people who heard God's voice, and were directed by Him. It seems God speaks to His people in various ways. One way is by sending an angel, or a messenger, to relay His messages, to speak for Him. In the last years a sort of angel worship cult has grown up. People are hungry for spiritual things and wish to be directed or led by someone or something with more knowledge or insight or with more authority than ourselves, we ordinary humans. The mystical is very popular. I am actually really baffled by this..1 know people who say the Bible is a myth and they could never believe it, and treat you like a relic of some unenlightened age, yet are willing to believe that there is a spirit in a stone or metal carving or will believe that the chanting of a so-called Holy person can give insight and direction in life. Or follow and believe a so-called "spiritual guide" who "channels" a being from "the other side". Yes, humans do want to hear God's voice. (and for the record, God has told us to NOT worship angels, that they are messengers only. Real angels will always point to Jesus, false ones will direct you to worship them).
At this time of the year we are celebrating Advent, the season leading to the birth of Jesus. Let's Have a look at the people that were involved in God's plan to save mankind by sending His own Son as a sacrifice: Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zachariah.
Luke 1:5-20, 27-35
Zechariah: he was just working in the temple. It was his turn to light the candles, and get the incense burning. A simple but faithful man doing his job. The whole congregation was just outside this room of the temple, worshiping and basically doing church at the time. Zecharias was alone in the inner room. So, suddenly an angel, but not just any angel - GABRIEL a big-shot angel— is suddenly standing there and says "I have been sent by God to speak to you and tell you that your wife will have a baby, and that baby will tell the world about the Messiah".
So what does our faithful religious man in the church say? He's like "well that's impossible because my wife and I are old and theres no way we can have a baby". Basically he didn't believe the voice he heard. As a result of his unbelief, Gabriel told him was not going to be able to speak again until the baby was born ao as not to have Zacharias run out and tell everyone was a crazy experience he had just had. He was "struck dumb", so he couldn't talk down God's plan (at least that's how it looks here).
Mary: so 6 months or so later, Gabriel heads over to Nazareth, where Mary is minding her own business, likely looking forward to her marriage to the local carpenter, maybe working on her dowry linens, knitting socks, shelling peas, or cooking or who knows. Again God speaks to Mary through Gabriel ,and tells her His plan for her. Notice Mary's response is different to that of Zachariah.
She says "Okay, so how is this all going to work then?" Mary remained open to God's plan for her life, even though the idea that she should be pregnant - by the spirit of God mind you- outside of wedlock was pretty incredible and besides, a very unacceptable thing in society. But Mary was a young woman who knew God. She knew His voice when she heard it. So she was okay with the whole crazy idea. She trusted Him. She said, Okay, bring it on!
Then Joseph: the hardworking carpenter who had arranged to become engaged to Mary. In Matthew's gospel we read that he had a dream where an angel of God appeared and SPOKE to him telling him not to be worried about getting married to Mary (who was pregnant out of wedlock) but that he would be helping fulfill the plan of God. Joseph had secretly been planning to dissolve the engagement but when he heard this he changed his mind. His reaction was similar to Mary's. He obviously felt certain enough that it was the voice of God he had heard, because what did he do? He said, okay I'll do as you say. He went ahead and married his pregnant fiancee, in spite of the social stigma and consequences of the times. He trusted God.
Both Mary and Joseph heard the voice of God and recognized it.
How did they know it was the voice of God? And not some other entity? Or just a weird dream or something? I mean the whole things was totally crazy!
Let's go and see what Jesus says about hearing His voice.
John 10:27: My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. He doesn't say my sheep listen for my voice, he says they HEAR my voice. So.
Let's look quickly at what a sheep is like: many of you will have had, or do have sheep so do kind of know their character. Sheep love to be in their group. They feel stressed and afraid if they become separated or alone. They need leadership and they know it. Well-I am not sure what a sheep knows!! But at any rate it makes them feel safe. They know who is in charge and they know that voice and know that its the voice to obey. They want to obey it. It makes them feel safe. Sheep don't possess a lot of weapons of self-defense. They can run away, but not that fast, they stamp their feet, but it's not frightening. They need help. And the leader knows that the sheep need him to lead. We are actually looking at a relationship, a relationship that works. The sheep and the shepherd. Which we are often compared to. We are the sheep who need to hear the voice of the shepherd. He says we hear his voice.
Let's look at the times when God lets us hear His audible voice.
It seems that from the accounts we read about in the Bible, God spoke to His people in a clearly audible voice when they needed Him most, or when He most needed them to hear Him. When they were in a very serious situation or when big things were about to happen. In the case of Mary and Joseph, God was enacting His big plan of redemption that he had been working on since the very beginning of time, and which required the special involvement of His people. He spoke to them clearly, letting them know what was happening, and that they were an important part of it.
God speaks to His people when they find themselves without any recourse left, with nowhere to go. At the end of their tether so to speak. Many of us have had times in life when we finally reached the bottom or the end of our human resources, where we cried out to God, and He heard and spoke. King David writes about this in the Psalms, how he cries out to God in his distress, and how God answers him. You can read in the psalms HOW David did this, reminding God how hopelessly lost he was without God and how God is his only rescuer, his strength and his true salvation, and surrendering himself to God.
When my husband died in Switzerland, my whole world as I knew it came crashing down, spinning out of control. It was almost like a state of shock, and I didn't know how life was going to go on. My husband was lying in a hospital bed in a coma, and I had 2 small children at home. They were 3 and 6. We lived in a small village up on the side of the hill in the alps, about an hours drive by car to the university hospital in the city. I had gone every day for the previous few days once or even twice a day to the hospital, spent time consulting with the doctors, praying and reading the bible out loud to my husband as he lay comatose. I was frankly exhausted.
That day I knew just couldn't do it again, my children were in distress and I just couldn't leave them again with friends for the several hours it would take. They needed me. But my husband lay dying. I cried out to God where I stood in the kitchen and said "Lord I just can't do it"! At that moment, a clear voice said to me "Don't worry, I am with him." I can't say how the voice sounded, it just was. Immediately I felt relief! I knew then that the only One in the whole universe who needed to be there, was there, and I could relax.
And that night my husband died. The only day I wasn't there.
I am thankful to this day that Jesus told me He was with him. I believe He let me know so i wouldn't have to feel guilty, so that over the years I could focus on caring for the little girls without that extra burden of guilt. Not only that, perhaps my husband needed that time alone with God, without me there, to finish up what he needed to do before he left this earth. That is Love for you. Christ's love, not just in the act of the crucifixion, but in everyday occurrences. He let me hear His voice, because I needed it. He knows His sheep, and they know His voice. He knows they need Him.
Also, it seems God speaks to His people when they ask to hear His voice. I don't mean a vague, "Oh Lord let me hear your voice", but perhaps when we simply ask a direct question, and wait for Him to speak. I think so often when we pray, we just keep on talking and talking, as if it's the exercise of talking that is important. Maybe we should practice listening too.
In BC our church Mountainview Community church, was without a pastor and during the process of the search for a new one, a church member with a local business made a room available for specific prayer regarding the finding of a new pastor. I decided to take the time and go too to the room and pray.
I sat down on the comfy chair there, leaned back and after a moment simply said " Lord, what do you want us to do?". Then I just sat there and waited. I really didn't have anything else to say, we had had countless prayer meetings asking for God's guidance and leading. As clearly as could be, a "voice" came to me and said "I want my people to love me". Very simple want my people to love me. Matt 22:37-39. Jesus actually told his followers and all seekers who would ever come after, almost 2000 years ago, that this was what He wanted, what we needed to know and do. Why did I hear that voice that day? I think it was because I simply asked, and then just waited to hear the answer. I didn't have any idea what to do, or what God wanted for our church. So I just asked. That experience showed me again that following God is actually pretty simple. Like a sheep, we just need to pay attention and do what the shepherd says. Which is love Him with all our heart, soul and mind, and our neighbour as ourselves. He's actually told us many times what He wants.
So how do we hear God's voice today?
When we pray about something, the answer can come in various ways. Perhaps a sense of peace about a decision (George and I re the cheese plant), a friend who confirms something you had been thinking, or an inner impulse that leads you to the solution you had been praying for.
According to these few examples of Biblical events we have looked at today,
He has given us simple instructions: Mary and Joseph lived lives completely surrendered to God. They trusted Him completely, even so far as to going along with a preposterous plan. They knew His voice, because they were His sheep.
And Jesus Himself said simply: This is it: Love Me, Love your neighbour. With everything you have, everything you are. And what follows? He will be our Shepherd, and we will hear His voice. His voice of leadership, His voice of comfort, His voice of love. Amen
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
And may the JOY of the Lord, that we celebrate this Advent Sunday, be your strength as we go from this place. Amen
Today we are going to take a look at the life of John the Baptist. His parents, his ministry. And a bit of his eccentricities And we're going to do it a little differently, we're going to read through the passage of Luke.
And let it unfold as a "seven act play"
Before the opening scene, I want us to use our imagination. So I'd like to paint if you will the background of the set.. We start with John's parents. His father Zachariah, and his mother Elizabeth. it's in the hill country of Judah. The people of Israel are waiting, and expecting their messiah anytime.
Luke is the one who has undertaken to compile or take in account all that is going on. He is a doctor and he is investigating all these claims.
Vs 5 of Ch 1
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest name Zachariah, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
Now let's stop there, ... We can quickly read over that one little line. Of the daughters of Aaron. What we have here is the priestly line, they were direct descendants of the priestly line since the time of Moses.
They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. 7 but they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced years.
Now let's stop here,.... As we read on, I want us all to look for the miracles that are happening as the rest of scripture unfolds. And it's very much like Abraham and Sarah. God is about to do something special, He is implicating Himself in the affairs of mankind.
Act one scene one
Vs 8 , Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, 8 . according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.. 10, and the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. 11 , And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the alter of incense. l 2 , Zachariah was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him.
Zachariah is at the temple doing his duties. He is a righteous man, but we have to realize, we look at the Bible now we see all the stories of angels, we tell each other these stories of Christmas what not, and we have a nostalgic, yet somewhat separated romantic , beautiful view of it. Our angels are usually kids with towels on their heads acting in plays and being cute and cuddly and harmless.
But for Zachariah, this was real, and it was terrifying. It's not every day that an angel appears to people! And I can pretty much guarantee, we would all have the same reaction if we had that encounter.
Let's continue on.
Vs 13 But The angel said to him, do not be afraid, Zachariah for your petition has been hurt, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. 14 You Will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet and his mothers womb..
Stop! Mark that in your memory.
Filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mothers womb...
16. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. 17. It is he who will go as a forerunner before him in the spirit and the power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and disobedient to the attitudes of the righteous so as to make ready to people prepared for the Lord.
Vs 18. Zachariah said to the angel, how will I know this for certain? For I am an Old man and my wife is advanced in years.
Stop! Can't you feel for Zacharias? I sure can... Here's where he stumbled, he's afraid and he began to doubt and question the messenger, question the possibility. Not trust.
Lessons to be learned?
Fear and doubt and and and trusting heart can plague us. And they can hold back the blessings that God has for us.
19 . And the angel answered and said to him, I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in there proper time. 21. The people were waiting for Zachariah's, and were wondering at his delay in the temple. 22. When he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple, and he kept making signs to them and remained mute.
Fast forward, verse 36. We are purposely gloss over there foretelling of the birth of Jesus to Mary. Because this is about John, it's about the one that will point the way to Jesus. And tell the people. People get ready.
So basically it's The angel Gabriel again. Appeared to Mary and telling her about her Son. And the virgin birth, yet Another miracle. God is doing something, He is implicating himself in the affairs of men, implicating himself in the person of Jesus in a real historical context.
Then we have the Angel appearing to Mary
And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also can see the sun in our old age and she who is called Baron is now in our six month 37 for nothing will be impossible with God. 38.And Mary said, behold the bond slave of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word and to the Angel departed from her.
In contrast, rather than Mary being full of fear doubt and disbelief She is excepting, and trusting. She still had questions , How can that be when I know you're man'?
Mary visits Elizabeth, pay attention to the subtle miracles.
39. Now at this time Mary arose and went in a hurry to the hill country, to the city of Judah, 40 and entered the house and Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth.
41 When Elizabeth heard Mary is greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Stop, notice how Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit
Let's continue on and again Pay attention to the subtleties.
42 and she cried out with a loud voice and said, "blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 and how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me
Stop and think mother of my Lord?
57 . Now the time is come for Elizabeth to give birth, and she gave birth to her son. 58 her neighbours and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed his great mercy toward her, and they were rejoicing with her. 59 and it happened on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to call him Zacharias, after his father. 60 but his mother answered and said, no indeed but he shall be called John. 61 and they said to her, there is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.. 62. And they made signs to his father, as to why he wanted him called. 63 and asked for a tablet and wrote as follows, "his name is John." And they were all astonished. 64 And at once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God. 65
Notice their reaction
Fear came on all those living around them, and all these matters were being talked about and all the hill country of Judea. 66 all who heard them kept them in mind, saying, what then will this child turn out to be? For the hand of the Lord was certainly with him.
67 and his father Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied saying. 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people. 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant. 70 As He spoke by the mouth of His Holy prophets from of old. 71 . Salvation from our enemies, and from the hands of all who hate us. 72 to show mercy towards our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant. 73 . The oath which he swore to Abraham our father, 74 To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear. 75. In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days. 76 . And you, child, will be called the prophet of the most high. Or you will go on before the Lord prepare his ways. 77 . To give his people the knowledge of salvation buy the forgiveness of their sins. 78 because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the sunrise from on high will visit us, 79 to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
John grew up???, became strong and,??? Huh,???
80 . And the child continue to grow and become strong in spirit, and he lived in the desert until the day of is public appearance to Israel...
Scene 6 .. Fast forward 30 years
Chapter 3 , Vs 7-9 . So we began saying to the crowd who were going out to be baptized by him, " you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"
Stop! Why is John talking like that? You're not gonna win many converts speaking like that!
Matthew chapter 3 vs 7 clarifies who we was speaking to. That is the Pharisees, the religious leaders that were looking to stifle, and stop any opposition.
So just to clarify, John grows up become strong and full of the Holy Spirit. And then he moves out to the desert, dresses and camels here tunic and eats grasshoppers.... huh?
That was me I'd be saying, not exactly what I signed up for
Vs 8 . Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourself, "we have Abraham for our father,' . For I say to you that from the stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 .indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees so every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Then in verse 10 to 14 John gives them the To do and the Not a lot to do list...
Into crowds were questioning him, saying, and what shall we do?. 11 and he answered and said to Them, the man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and he has food is to do likewise. 12 and some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, teacher what shall we do? 13 and he said to them, collect no more than what you have been ordered to. 14 some soldiers were questioning him, saying, and what about us? What shall we do? And he answered them, do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages..
Then people begin to question him if he was the Messiah.
15 now while the people were in a state of expectation and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ. 16 . John answered and said to them all, as for me, I baptize you with water, but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the throng of his sandals, He Will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Then we see the Christ coming to John the Baptist to be baptized. Verse 21 and 22
Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized and while He was praying Heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in. bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, You are My beloved Son, in You 1 am well-pleased..
John points to Jesus messiah king of kings lord of lords
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Friends, technology is a wonderful thing. And in this technological age, we have developed many new and wonderful forms of communications. The Internet, the facebook and the twitter, iPhones and smartwatches, smarthouses, smart everythings.... But none, friends, nary a one can hold a candle to that greatest "old school" communication device
The bumper sticker.
It's subversive: You hardly see them. They worm their way into your subconscious and, before you know it.... Boom! You're aware that the kid in the car in front of you is an honor student at the local high school.....
And the bumper sticker is a great theological tool: You're minding your own business, driving down the road, when all of a sudden your under-brain fixes on the bumper sticker on the car in front of you spouting some profound theological message.
And all of a sudden the message hits you:
Hey.... That guy brakes for Jesus!
Well look at that.... That car is powered by Jesus!
A personal favorite: Honk if you love Jesus, text if you want to meet him.
And here, friends, is my gentle segue into Advent, because some of the best of those bumper stickers have a very Advent-y message:
"In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned."
Or the slightly wittier: "Come the rapture, can I have your car?"
The return of Christ. The second coming. Apocalypticism. The End Times. Merry Christmas!
These are just the words that come to mind during this time of the Christmas season, aren't they? No?
A brood of vipers.
Chaff thrown into a raging fire.
These are the images that come to mind just before Christmas, right? No? Well, welcome to Advent.
You might think that the images of Christ's return and the images of the Christmas story have nothing in common and are even out of place during this time of the year. But think about it for a second. The two ideas share a very common theme...the advent of Christ into our world.
The first advent, or "coming" as the word means, was about Christ's birth and his coming to the earth. The second advent, is about Christ coming to the earth also to give his people and kingdom a new birth.
It makes all kinds of sense that we prepare our hearts and minds for this coming, this advent. Life's not all about trees and parcels and frankincense! This time of year is not just about getting all the gifts bought for our friends and family. It's about getting ready for this coming of Christ.
There's a comedy movie that came out a few years ago called Talladega Nights, in which Will Ferrell plays a racecar driver named Ricky Bobby.
The film is a spoof of NASCAR racing culture, and in one memorable scene, Ricky and his family are at the table getting ready to eat. And when he asks the blessing, he prays to "the little baby Jesus." But in the middle of his prayer in which he returns thanks for the bountiful harvest from dominoes pizza and taco bell, his wife interrupts him and tells him how she doesn't like the fact that he always prays to the baby Jesus. She says, "Jesus did grow up, you know? You don't always have to call him baby!" To which Ricky Bobby responds, "I like the Christmas Jesus best and I'm the one saying grace. When you say grace you can pray to grownup Jesus or teenage Jesus or bearded Jesus or whichever Jesus you like."
Now, while no one is ever going to call Talladega Nights a cinematic classic, there is an important message here: I think we all like the Christmas Jesus best. I mean, who among us doesn't prefer the tiny infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes lying away in some manger to the Jesus that comes near us riding on the clouds ushering in his kingdom, coming upon the world like a trap?
The story from Luke's gospel this morning is not a story of Christmas Jesus. It is a story of Advent Jesus. It is a story full of troubling and even confusing imagery. It's the Lucan parallel of the message from Mark we read last I was here. Not a stone left standing in the temple, "Keep calm and carry on...." remember?
There are certainly no cute little fuzzy sheep or shepherds watching their flocks by night in this lesson from Luke. Christmas trees are replaced by fig trees getting ready for the upcoming harvest.
The forecast for a white Christmas is replaced by roaring waves and ominous signs in the sky. The eager anticipation that comes on Christmas morning before we open our presents is replaced by fear and foreboding and fainting.
The first coming of Christ is much easier for us to imagine—a perfect child being born into an imperfect situation. We can wrap our minds around that kind of story. But the second coming, that's a much more difficult thing for us to embrace.
Our text from Luke this morning can be a little confusing and hard to understand. And there is a billion dollar industry behind writing fiction around these words of Jesus and theorizing about the specifics of his return. It is easy to get caught up into this craze of knowing when this time will be and plotting out a timeline for the return of grown-up Jesus.
But there's no real need to worry about these things. If you remember, Jesus tells us that even the angels in heaven don't know when the second coming will be. Jesus says that he doesn't even know, but that only the Father knows.
And as we discussed in my last message, we don't really need to concern ourselves too much with the confusing part(s) of this lesson. Jesus left us explicitly clear instructions about the things we need to worry about (you remember: kindness, love, generosity) and also explicitly told us that we weren't meant to know or to worry about the end times. And so his words about the subject of those end times are more poetic; more obtuse. And friends, if you don't understand every sentence in the Bible, good...that means you are human.
I think the main thing we should try to remember about this story this morning comes in verse 34. "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap."
Mark Twain once said that it wasn't the parts of the Bible that he didn't understand that bothered him, but the parts that he understood all too clearly.
It isn't those places in the Bible that confuse me that I worry about. It's the places in the Bible that I understand all too well that I hold with me: love your neighbor, turn the other cheek, come... follow me. Those are the sections I worry about.
And still, Jesus is coming. So we watch, and wait. And the waiting is hard, sometimes, isn't it?
Advent isn't about Christmas, Advent isn't about judgment. Advent is about being prepared and then waiting...And perhaps waiting for a long, long time. Can you think of anything less like the world we live in?
Our modern world would have us rush right out to deck our halls and jingle our bells. And here's the hardest things we are asked to do: During this time of wrapping paper and shopping lists, Santa Claus and black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, we're told that we need to stop.
We're told we need to stop and be still and quiet and to seek the Lord who once came to us as a baby. Christmas has exploded all around us, but in the midst of that, we wait. In our church, and out in the world we're are singing the carols and planning our big plans for Christmas.
And there's nothing wrong with that. As long as we remember that we are waiting. We wait because there is something far more important than wrapping, and tinsel and colored lights.
God came to Abraham and told him that he would be the father of a great nation and he waited.
God promised his children that they would have a land of their own and they waited.
The prophets told the Jews that the Messiah would come and
The archangel told Mary she would bear the Son of God and she waited.
Christ told us that he would come again and we wait.
That is what this season is all about. It reminds us that we are waiting. It reminds us what we are waiting on. It reminds us why we are waiting.
Advent hymns and readings and lessons are about this waiting and this preparation. They tell us that this is the time for us to wake up from our sleep. They tell us that, though the night is deep and dark, the day is drawing nearer.
And if we are to live in the light — and Advent is all about the coming of the light — then we are need to put aside all the potential for darkness that our modern world tries to force upon us.
It is time for us to wake up, and stay awake, as we wait for our coming Christ! It's time to be ready!
And all of this reminds me of another bumper sticker I saw this week (and the impetus behind this message).
I was stuck in Montreal traffic on my way to a gig. I was sitting, grumbling on Autoroute 40, when a small car merged directly in front of mine on the highway. On its bumper was a sticker I had to read twice. Fortunately... I had the time.
Despite the fact that it was hard to understand at first, it became remarkably clear and simple to me once I just looked at what it said.
It read: "Jesus is coming soon!" And underneath were the letters R U and an E? Rue, I thought? This fellow rues the fact that Jesus is coming?
Then of course, I noticed that the E was red. Which, in typical bumper-sticker vernacular, means R, U, red-E.
Are you ready?
Jesus is coming. Are you ready?
Gotta love those bumper stickers.
So, are we? Are we ready for the return of Jesus? I'm not just talking here about the time we celebrate baby Jesus, Christmas Jesus.
I am talking about grown-up Jesus, Advent Jesus? Are you ready for his return? We don't know when, but we know how to wait: By helping make the world the Kingdom he wants it to be.
Come, thou Long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, (Slow) let us find our rest in thee.
Amen and Amen.
Today, we are very pleased to have Rev. Randy Barrington lead us in worship and serve us The Lord’s Supper. Thank You Randy!
CALL TO WORSHIP
(congregation reads words printed in bold)
God calls us to a feast!
The table is set, and we will come to sit at Christ’s table.
Compassion, love, and grace are poured out like fine wine.
We come to share our stories and Your story,
to share our hope and our pain,
to share our wisdom and our laughter.
The table is set, so come let us worship God together!
WE PREPARE FOR HOLY COMMUNION
COMMUNION HYMN: # 543 “Here O My Lord” vs 1-3
Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would we touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.
2 Here would I feed upon the bread of God,
Here drink with Thee the royal wine of heaven;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.
3 This is the hour of banquet and of song;
This is the heavenly table spread for me;
Here let me feast, and feasting, still prolong
The brief, bright hour of fellowship with Thee.
THE GREAT PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
THE GREAT PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
One: The Lord is with you.
All: And also with you.
One: Lift up your hearts.
All: We lift them up to the Lord.
One: Let us given thanks to the Lord, our God.
All: It is right to give our thanks and praise.
One: Eternal God, you loved us long before we knew or loved you; and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ you show us that nothing can destroy your love or separate us from it. You have empowered the Church at Pentecost with the unsettling gift of Holy Spirit, both comforting and convicting.
All: So, with all our hearts, we thank you, and we renew our covenant and our commitment to recognize your presence at every turn, and to grow in your love.
One: Now into our communion, and into your eternal loving kindness we offer the prayers we have named:
for each other,
for our families,
for your Church where we serve and love others,
for every person with whom we will have contact this week,
for our beautiful and broken world of nations and peoples,
All: Thank you for hearing us. Thank you for speaking to us. Thank you for your abiding presence in every breath of all creation and beyond. Amen.
BLESSING OF THE BREAD AND CUP
On the night before he died, Jesus had a meal with his friends. While they were eating, he took bread, gave thanks to you, broke it and said, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.”
After supper he took the cup and said, “This cup is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood. Whenever you drink it, do it in memory of me.
When Jesus took bread and wine, he gave new meaning to commonplace things. So come now, Holy Spirit, pour your goodness into these gifts of bread and cup, and into us your people, that these common elements, and we ordinary persons might become Christ’s body, your gift for the healing of the world. Amen.
These are the gifts of God for the people of God. Come, for all is ready.
CELEBRATION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER
PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION
COMMUNION HYMN: # 543 “Here O My Lord” vs 4,5
Today, we so very pleased to have Rev. Randy Barrington lead us in worship and serve us The Lord’s Supper. Thank You Randy!
We also welcome special guest Anna Kiraly today…as part of her, Religion 409 Class – “Methodology and the Study of Religion” at Concordia University, Anna has chosen Rockburn Church for her mini Thesis. We are very pleased to support you Anna!
Rockburn Canadian Food Grains Bank Fundraiser is under way…let’s see Gus move up the chart.
Thanks to everyone who prepared and sent Samaritan’s Purse Shoeboxes.
The Military Whist we hosted last Monday evening was a great success…
Today, we so very pleased to have Rev. Randy Barrington lead us in worship and serve us The Lord’s Supper. Thank You Randy!
We also welcome special guest Anna Kiraly today…as part of her, Religion 409 Class – “Methodology and the Study of Religion” at Concordia University, Anna has chosen Rockburn Church for her mini Thesis. We are very pleased to support you Anna!
Rockburn Canadian Food Grains Bank Fundraiser is under way…let’s see Gus move up the chart.
Thanks to everyone who prepared and sent Samaritan’s Purse Shoeboxes.
The Military Whist we hosted last Monday evening was a great success…
Today, 0 Lord, we offer you our sacrifice of time, energy, and love, knowing full well they are mere tokens of the awesome faith you inspire within us. Accept these gifts, that they may continue the good work in Christ — in our church, in our community, and in the world. Blessed be the name of the Lord!
There is fear 0 God, and there is uncertainty in many human hearts—even in our hearts today—and for some—every day. There is aimlessness in the hearts of others— senseless excitements about the details of the end of time, bout the signs that are around us, for us to read and to understand—and yet they have no peace in this knowing and often argue about the meaning of things with others instead of breathing in the strength of earth and sky and breathing out love and compassion upon their own selves and the self of the world around them—the world you have made.
0 Great God, you know about Fear, Aimlessness, Senseless excitements, and deep depressions of the soul. You understand the afflictions of the lonely— of those who have no one to draw were abundantly clear. When disasters hit, Jesus' followers should get to work and leave the end time prognostication to God alone.
Message : “Keep calm and carry on.”
A priest and a pastor are standing by the side of a road holding up a sign that reads "The end is near! Turn around now before it's too late!"
A passing driver yells, "You guys are nuts!" and speeds past them. From around the curve, they hear screeching tires—then a big splash.
The priest turns to the pastor and says, "Do you think we should just put up a sign that says 'Bridge Out' instead?"
We've all seen the cartoons of the bearded, crazed man atop his soap box, wearing a sandwich board that informs us that `The End is near!!!'
People have been prophesying the end of the world for thousands of years.
And there are still many examples today....
Remember the Year 2000 crisis? For months leading up to the calendar flipping from 1999 to 2000, we were told that all the computers on the planet would fail, planes would fall from the sky, power grids would fail and the world would be hurled into eternal darkness.
A host of 'New Age' scientists' (and please note that ! have both those terms inside quote marks) spent the better part of the new millennium telling us that the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar in December 2012 signaled with absolute certainty that the Earth was to perish in a massive black hole in the center of the galaxy.
Good old David Meade, the pseudonym (which means, aside from a few other definitions, someone too embarrassed by their own blather and nonsense to give their real name) of an American doomsday-crier, made all kinds of headlines last year when he informed us that, following a lifetime of study and research he had determined that the here-to-for hidden planet Nibiru would suddenly appear in the heavens and crash into the earth, putting an end to all life.
That was to happen on September 23rd, 2017. And then it was to happen in December of 2017. And then March of 2018.
Currently, Mr. Meade's apocalypse is due on an unspecified date between May and December of this year. Brothers and Sisters, keep awake!
Today's Gospel reading from Mark is a bit of a tough one, if we choose to interpret it literally. Following a day of teaching in Herod's Temple in Jerusalem, he and his disciples leave the city to rest. As they do, the disciples comment on the beauty of the temple. Jesus wastes no time in informing them that it would soon come crashing to the ground. And, once clear of the city, proceeds to talk about the coming end of days.
Mark 13 is commonly referred to as the 'Little Apocalypse'. Today's reading focuses on the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and further along in the chapter Jesus speaks specifically about how it will be in the end times, when God's judgement is brought down upon the world.
And it seems like no matter what the tragedy these days, someone is always more than willing to get out into the media and attempt to connect it to God's judgment. The California wildfires are God's wrath against the liberal Californian culture.
The spate of mass shootings across the United States are not the result of ridiculously lax gun controls and very human prejudice, but rather God's judgement of a faithless Country.
This instinct to interpret current times through the broader lens of God's judgment is not new. Examples appear throughout the Bible. For those who believe God's Spirit does work in the world through signs and miracles, such tragedies can function as intellectual puzzles, but they should never stop us from responding with heart, head and hands.
Jesus spoke often about the end times and certainly not in ways supported by a modern scientific worldview. For Jesus, the belief that God controls history was fundamental to his perspective.
Not long before his arrest, Jesus was with the disciples in the temple. As they came out, one of the disciples exclaimed his awe of the structure. "Look, Teacher, what large stones and large buildings!" he said. Indeed, ancient historians wrote that the temple in Jerusalem was magnificent. If its massive size was not impressive enough, much of it was covered in gold.
Jesus' response must have caught the disciples off guard: "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down".
The disciples too must have been in a mood to discuss the end times because next, when Jesus was sitting opposite the temple on the Mount of Olives, some of them asked for further explanation. "When?" they wondered aloud, "What will be the sign?" Jesus responds in his trademark roundabout way.
Jesus warns of those that would lead them astray. He tells them not to be alarmed by "wars and rumors of wars" which, if you ask me, are some of the most alarming prospects imaginable.
A more troubling time would be coming, Jesus explains. it will include war, earthquakes and famines. But they are not to be afraid since, "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs" (Mark 13:8).
Jesus' response is the first century equivalent of the famous propaganda poster produced by the British government during World War II that boldly proclaimed, "Keep Calm and Carry On."
Now, if any of you have spent any time at all on the Facebook or the Twitter these days, you've seen the many, many, many revisionist versions of this iconic poster from WW2 Blitz-era England. "Keep Calm and Grow a Beard"................................................. "Keep Calm and Use the Force".... Or even "Keep Calm and Avoid Zombies".
But the original message behind this poster was to persevere. Perseverance through adversity, through calamity and through terror.
Like the disciples, something makes us want to know every detail about when and how our future — and God's ultimate justice — will take place. Certainly, knowing the severity and destination of future superstorms will help save lives, but the disciples were longing for more. They wanted a blueprint. Perhaps they hoped for a way to save themselves as they interpreted the signs of the time.
In this passage from Mark, Jesus uses language and terms common in other biblical books to help reveal what is currently hidden to the disciples. It was common, around Jesus' time, to mix visions, symbols and dreams to disclose a future more important than the present reality.
Mark 13:1-8, and similar passages in Daniel and Revelation, long for a future in which oppression is a thing of the past, but they should not be read as an end time recipe book with detailed step-by-step instructions. The coming times are sometimes described in vague, rough, violent terms, but the ultimate end is full of God's justice and peace.
Trust in God means living a life expectant and hopeful for Christ's return; it need not be consumed by explaining every world affair in terms of God's super-plan.
Discipleship calls for a faith in which ultimately, despite our present struggle, God's love is sovereign. We need not micromanage the signs of God's judgment. Instead, we are called to manage our lives and conform them to God's vision of justice, love and peace.
Believers today take many different approaches to waiting (and interpreting) the end times. Some read into the Bible explanations that simply are not there, mislabeling natural catastrophes and man-made calamities, and causing more hurt and confusion in the process.
Note that in this passage, Jesus does not suggest interpretation of the troubles ahead will be easy. In fact, he warns of exactly this danger of overly-clear explanation. Many will come in his name, Jesus cautions, but they are not he. Since we are so prone to confusion, Jesus explicitly advises against alarm and overreaction.
The faithful response to disaster is not pointing a finger, or making shocking headline-grabbing accusations, but service to God and neighbor. Sadly, we know too that one day there will be another storm, another shooting, another earthquake.
We must break the cycle of interpreting these events in ways Jesus specifically warned against, and instead, follow the one who healed at every opportunity, who urged care for those without food and shelter, who loved beyond all love even in the most desperate of times.
Keep awake! Trust in God. Keep calm, and carry on.
For the Faithful Who Have Answered
For the faithful who have answered when they heard your call to serve,
For the many ways you led them testing will and stretching nerve, For their work and for their witness as they strove against the odds, For their courage and obedience we give thanks and praise, 0 Go.
Many eyes have glimpsed the promise, many hearts have yearned to see.
Many ears have heard you calling us to greater liberty.
Some have fallen in the struggle, others still are fighting on.
You are not ashamed to own us. We give thanks and praise, 0 God.
For this cloud of faithful witness, for the common life we share, For the work of peace and justice, for the gospel that we bear, For the vision that our homeland is your love- deep, high, and broad
For the different roads we travel we give thanks and praise, 0 God.
Words written by Sylvia Dunstan
Let There be Peace on Earth
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me;
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be. With God our creator, children all are we;
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony,
Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now, With ev'ry step I take let this be my solemn vow:
To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
(repeat whole song)
Words by By Miller and Jill Jackson
0 God our Help in Ages Past
0 God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.
Under the shadow of thy throne thy saints have dwelt secure; Sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood, or earth received its frame, From everlasting thou art God, to endless years the same.
A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.
Time like an ever-rolling stream soon bears us all away; We fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
0 God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last, and our eternal home.
Words by Isaac Watts
Let There Be Light
Let there be light, let there be understanding,
Let all the nations gather, let them be face to face;
Open our lips, open our minds to ponder, open the door od concord opening into grace;
Perish the sword, perish the angry judgement,
Perish the bombs and hunger, perish the fight for gain;
Hallow our love, hallow the deaths of martyrs, Hallow their holy freedom, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your spirit turn to language, Your people speak together, your spirit never fade;
Let there be light, open our hearts to wonder,
Perish the way of terror, hallow the world God made.
Words by Frances Wheeler Davi!
Go now In love and show you believe, Reach out to others so all the world can see. God will be there, watching from above.
Go now in peace, in faith, and In love.
Welcome to our service today. We are delighted to welcome members of other community churches, of the Legion, and other community members who have gathered to commemorate the loot" anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War.
The commemorations will continue this afternoon in Ormstown on Church Street with the Cenotaph service, beginning about 1:30pm.
Also, at the end of the day, many churches in the region and around the country will be ringing their bells at sunset, 4:15-5pm. They will ring 100 times to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the armistice tha..:: ended the First World War.
St Paul's UCW will be meeting Wednesday, November 14th at 1pm in the hall. All are welcome.
Please don't forget the great need of food in impoverished nations by supporting the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, please put envelopes in
the collection plate.
Barbara will be preparing a newsletter for next Sunday. If you wish to have an event included, for the church or the community, please let her know by Thursday at noon. You can call 450-829-3855 or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Franklin UCW will be holding its Christmas Dinner Wednesday, December 5th at noon. Please contact Joyce Patenaude at 450-2643579 by November 26th if you wish to attend.
ARMISTICE: 100 YEARS
Remembrance Day is a day for all Canadians to remember the men and women who served and sacrificed for our country. It is a day we encourage every individual, young and old, to pause, to give thanks, and to remember.
La ceremonie du souvenir a joue un rOle majeur depuis 1931, lorsque chaque armee, a la onzieme heure du onzieme jour du onzieme mois, nous nous rassemblons dans les pares commemoratifs, les salles communautaires, les lieux de travail, les ecoles, les maisons et les eglises pour etre en P honneur de tous ceux qui sont tombees. Together, we observe a moment of silence to mark the sacrifice of the many who have fallen in the service of their country, and to acknowledge the courage of those who still serve.
The Royal Canadian Legion was born from the ashes of World War 1. This day, November 11, 2018, marks 100 years since the signing of the armistice that officially ended. WWI. En hommage a tous les Canadiens qui ont servi dans cette terrible guerre, la filial 196 est fiere de faire partie de ce service ecumenique special. Nous remercions le reverend Barbara Bryce de nous avoir inclus dans ce service.
Today, we take a moment to stop, to remember and to feel the joy that peace brought after so much death and destruction. Close to 61,000 Canadians were killed during the war and another 172,000 were wounded. If we are to remember those who fought, we need to drive home the message of the horror of war and its effects on the society that wages it. To this end, I would like to share a couple of stories with you this morning.
As the war wound down, the focus turned to liberating France and Belgium from the retreating Germans. The period from August 8 to November 11, 1918 was called Canada's Hundred Days. The Canadian troops spearheaded an advance from Amiens.
The final destination of Canadian troops was the city of Mons in Belgium. The troops pushed into the city and were engaged in house to house fighting when the armistice was declared.
Canadian soldier George Price holds the sad distinction of being the last Canadian and the last Commonwealth soldier to die in the war. A total of 10,000 men were killed, wounded or listed as missing from all participating armies on the last day of the war.
Private Price was a native of Port Williams, Nova Scotia. He then moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and joined the army there in October 1917.
"George was facing me," fellow soldier Art Goodworthy said. "And I was saying something to him when all of a sudden BANG! He fell into my arms. I could have cried. It was not an accidental shot. It was a sniper from way up the end of the street." Goodworthy said his Captain was stunned when he got the news and kept repeating, "But the war is over. The war is over."
The mayor of Mons is said to have written the following of the Canadian entry into his city.
"At five in the morning of the 11th, I saw the shadow of a man and the gleam of a bayonet advancing stealthily along that farther wall, near the Café des Princes. Then another shadow, and another. They crept across the square, keeping very low, and dashed north toward the German lines. I knew this was liberation. Then above the roar of artillery, I heard music, beautiful music. It was a.-,though the angels of Mons were playing. And then I recognized the song. It was 0 Canada. This was the signal. The whole population rushed into the square, singing and dancing, although the battle still sounded half a mile away."
My last story is in remembrance of the last two Canadian WWI veterans. Clare Laking was 18 when he defied his father's wishes and left the family farm to enlist. He arrived in France just after Vimy Ridge, serving as a signaller who ran telephone wire along the trenches. Though he was wounded by a German shell, he believe, he was the only farm boy from his area to return home alive. Clare Laking died on November 26, 2005, at the age of 106.
John Babcock was born on an Ontario farm in 1900. He enlisted to join the war at the tender age of 16. He lied about his age but 'found out and sent to the Boys Battalion. He never saw the front lines. He died at the age of 109 in February, 2010. These two men were the last of 600,000 Canadians who fought in the Great War.
Et nous n'oublier que les femmes canadiennes ont joue un role important dans la premiere guerre mondiale. Quelque deux milles infirmieres se sant enrolees dans le corps expeditionnaire canadien, et un autre mine a travaille pour le RAF. Plus de trente milles femmes travaillaient dans des usines de munitions, et des milliers d'autres ont pris du travail dans les bureaux du gouvernement, les banques, les fermes et les usines.
We, the members of the Royal Canadian Legion, and all Canadians, have been handed the torch of remembrance by our fallen comrades to hold it high and to never forget the sacrifices made in the name of Canada and for Canadians.
Nous nous souviendrons d'eux.
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet, Lest We forget. Lest We forget.
OPENING PRAYER & THE LORD’S PRAYER
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Giving, forgiving, and healing God,
We gather in your light and beauty
to worship and adore you.
You are our strength, when we cry out in weakness.
You show us grace in solidarity with the sinner.
You guide our paths, when we lose sight of your purpose.
Your love is powerful and holds us close even when we feel or run far from you.
Before you, nothing is hidden.
You know us and our shortcomings,
and so we come before you and confess:
Generous and loving God,
we confess that
in a world where many do not have enough,
we have taken more than we need.
In a world where many live in fear,
we take peace for granted.
In a world where many have lost hope,
we are too often indifferent to despair.
Forgive us, merciful God,
and transform our lives.
Shall We now Pray the Pray Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
Our Father Who Art in Heaven…Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver is from evil…for Thine is the Kingdom the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
We Listen to God’s Word
Prayer for Understanding
As we read & listen to your Word let us hear your voice, and in hearing, let our lives be changed and your world transformed.
Ephesians 2:4-10 New International Version But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Colossians 3:12-17 New International Version 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
MESSAGE: Paying Forward- Acts of Kindness
My message today is Paying Forward-Acts of Kindness. Like the first line reads of the hymn we just sang….Jesus’ hands were kind hands, doing good to all, and it goes on to say… Take my hands Lord Jesus, let them work for you; make them strong and gentle, kind in all I do.
In reading stories about Jesus in our Bibles we can visualize Jesus and his disciples travelling the countryside…caring, helping, healing people…without judgement. Only with pure LOVE!
This is what is asked of us in our earthly life… To show each other and strangers unconditional Acts of Love and Kindness…
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Winston S. Churchill
The thrill of paying it forward is that you do something really good for someone who would not at all expect this kind act. You don’t necessarily have to pay it forward only to people you know. Quite the contrary, you can pay it forward to basically every individual that you can somehow get in touch with.
By paying it forward, you can make quite an important difference in this world. Not only will you brighten another person’s mood, but you will also set a chain reaction in motion. If you pay it forward to three people, who again pay it forward to three others themselves, the entire planet could be transformed. Affecting change doesn’t take much. You don’t have to be rich, powerful or influential. Every ordinary person can help to make this world a better place, by paying it forward.
Doing a good deed to an unsuspecting stranger is a beautifully selfless act. Not only will it remind them that this world is full of selflessness, generosity, and kindness. It will also encourage the benefactor to be kinder and more compassionate to others.
How to Pay It Forward?§ Look out for the opportunities. Life will provide you with numerous opportunities to pay it forward. You only have to be attentive.
§ Be willing to help complete strangers. There may not always be an opportunity to do your family or friends a good deed. But you can always help those who are in need, even if they are complete strangers.
§ Give freely without expecting anything in return. Many people will ask you how they can reimburse you for your kindness. You can introduce these people to the idea of paying it forward. Tell them that you don’t expect anything in return, but that you would greatly appreciate it if they could pay the good deed forward.
§ Even small acts count. It doesn’t matter so much how much you give. All that matters is that you are willing to give and to spread the word.
Enjoy the following pay it forward ideas!
1. Do a good deed to a homeless person. There are so many things you can do for a homeless person. Ask them if they want a coffee or a pizza slice of the restaurant they sit next to. Drop them something to eat you’ve bought in the supermarket. The opportunities are endless.
2. Pay for someone’s coffee. When buying a coffee, you can casually pay the coffee or tea of the person behind you. It’s a fantastic way to brighten their mood. The idea of paying a coffee forward worked so incredibly well in Canada that more than 200 consecutive orders were paid forward. That is until someone who was paid four coffees was not willing to pay the three coffees of the person behind them.
3. Participate in a cleanup day. Cleanup days are a fantastic way to contribute your part in helping to preserve mother nature.
4. Donate some of your clothes. Have a look in your closet. If there are many items you haven’t worn for years, consider donating some of them.
5. Run for a good cause. Numerous charity runs (or walks and bicycle rides) are held each year. Sign-up for the next one and participate in raising funds for a good cause.
6. Ask for donations instead of gifts. Many people wonder how they can do something good without having to spend money. Well, by asking people to donate for a good cause instead of buying you a birthday/Christmas/wedding gift, you can do a good deed without having to spend anything.
7. Free up spare change. As the days pass by, you’ll notice that the spare change in your purse grows bigger and bigger. The next time you come across a payment machine, be sure to throw a couple of quarters in it for the next person. You can do this with basically any payment machine, for example, parking ticket terminals, parking meters but also paying for the next person’s vehicle fee at a toll booth.
8. Donate your books. There are two types of books. The first type consists of really good books that you pick up again and again. The second type consists of books that were – more or less – interesting to read but no longer serve a purpose. You could donate all the books you no longer need, for instance to your local library.
9. Leave a good book behind. Once you’ve finished reading an excellent book, consider leaving it for someone else to read. No matter if you’re in a cafe, train, bus or airplane, leaving a copy of a book behind is a nice way to lighten someone’s mood.
10. Smile at someone. Give someone a smile. You’ll see that many people will quickly loosen up and return the smile.
11. Become someone’s mentor. You can always mentor someone. It’s free and there will be always people younger and less experienced than you who could greatly benefit from your knowledge.
12. Donate blood. By donating your blood, you can potentially help another person to live. What could be more beautiful than doing something that helps someone else to stay alive?
13. Buy something from a kid’s lemonade stand. Many kids sell lemonade or old toys. Be sure to buy something from them, it will make them incredibly happy and gives them a sense of accomplishment.
14. Donate 5-10% of your income. By cutting your expenses for things you don’t really need, you’ll have quite a lot of money left over that you can donate to a good cause.
15. Offer your services for free. There are many lawyers and psychologists who offer their services entirely for free for those who are in need. You could do the same by sharing your service for free. It certainly won’t hurt your business and if you’re a service provider, it only costs you some of your time.
16. Listen to someone’s story. Many people don’t have someone who listens to them, someone who cares about them. You could be that someone. You don’t even have to find a solution to all their problems, sometimes it simply takes someone who is willing to listen.
17. Give some words of encouragement. There are many situations in life where we see the most ludicrous things happen to strangers. Don’t be the one who just stops to stare, be the one who helps them to get back up.
18. Help someone improve their life. Making beneficial changes in your life is all about knowledge. If you’ve gone through a tough time and if you’ve found crafty hacks that helped you to overcome the difficulties, consider sharing them with other people. Your advice may greatly help them to overcome the difficulties as well.
19. Be forgiving. Life will confront you with numerous opportunities to lose your patience. Perhaps someone is “stealing” your parking spot. Or the intern made another terrible mistake. Whatever it is, be willing to forgive others immediately. Be kind about their weaknesses and try to see yourself in them.
20. Encourage others with Post-it notes. There are many places where people could greatly use some encouragement. If you have the time, consider posting some motivating or encouraging notes in these places.
21. Spend some time with the elderly. There are many people in retirement homes that have no one who comes visiting. You could drop by your local old-age home and ask if there’s someone whose day you could brighten.
22. Pay the animal shelter a visit. Your closest animal sanctuary will most likely be glad if you’re willing to spend some time with their dogs or cats. In many cases, it’s possible to take a walk with a dog.
23. Pray for someone in need. Many people consider praying as something that is incredibly powerful. If there is someone you know who is in need, you cannot lose much by including them in your prayers. Sent them some love and wish them the necessary strength it takes to see things through.
24. Share your umbrella. When it’s raining, let someone stand with you under your umbrella.
25. Pay someone an honest compliment. If you see someone doing something really great, don’t shy away from giving them a competent. You can give out compliments for basically everything, you only need to seize the opportunity.
26. Put coupons on community boards. Whenever you have a coupon that you don’t need, be sure to put it on a notice-board or post the coupon code online. There will always be someone who can make use of it.
27. Offer to take a photo. If you see someone taking pictures of their family, offer to take the picture so that this person can be alongside their family on the photo.
28. Leave your change where kids will easily find it. Remember that awesome day when you found some money when you were a little child? Well, now it’s your turn to pay this wonderful feeling forward to another child. Leave some of your change somewhere you know that kids will instantly spot it.
29. Mow the lawn for an elderly person. There are many people who can no longer take care of their gardens themselves. Taking care of their garden is a fantastic way to pay it forward.
30. Be nice to customer service personal. Treat service personal kindly and be sure to tell them how much you appreciate their service. It can greatly brighten their mood, especially when they are confronted with ungrateful, harsh and impolite customers all the time.
31. Pick up garbage. Many people are so careless about nature that they simply throw things away right where they are. By picking up some garbage, you can relieve the burden these ignorant people place on nature.
32. Carry someone’s bags. If you see an someone struggling with all their bags from the grocery store, offer your help.
33. Loan something without expecting it to be returned. There are people who simply won’t accept a gift from you. But if you tell them that you’re just loaning whatever you have to give, they will gladly accept the help. You don’t necessarily have to tell them that you don’t intend on calling it in again.
34. Give up your seat. Offer your seat to an elderly person. They will greatly appreciate your good deed.
35. Do pro bono work. You wouldn’t believe how many skills you have that could be greatly used in charitable or non-profit projects. If you have some time to spend, doing pro bono work is a fantastic way of paying it forward.
36. Let others in the line go in front of you. If you’re standing in the line at the supermarket and you see that the person behind you is buying only a couple of things, let them go in front of you.
37. Help someone pursue their dream. What better way to pay something forward than helping someone accomplish their dream? If you find yourself in a position that allows you to help someone realize one of their dreams, offer your help.
38. Say “yes” when someone asks for help. If someone asks you for help, see if you can help in any way shape or form. You may not always be able to solve the problem, but you can at least help to alleviate its effects.
Hebrews 11:1-13; 39
All is not Lost
Let me begin by acknowledging that this is a difficult passage to hear, as is much of the book of Job. We have a tendency in our modern world to like things to be nice and clean; neat and easy to understand; joyful and upbeat. Job is really none of those things. We tend to try and make Job manageable by focusing on the "patience of Job," it is even a modern-day cliché; but Job is far more complex. Job does much more than merely exhibit patience. The book of Job is messy, complicated, and even depressing at times.
Yet, this is precisely why Job is so important. We balk at the idea of being angry at God. We look at God as an ever-present, ever-loving being, and when all we feel are emptiness and sadness, we are afraid to talk about it because somehow this seems to be an inappropriate front to God. We have this general idea in our heads that we are being disrespectful if we cry out that God seems totally absent from our lives. And yet, this is precisely what Job does, and the passage we heard a few moments ago is a prime example of that. Job gives us permission to feel bitterness in the face of injustice. Job allows us be upset and to cry out when God seems absent. But Job also tells a story of faith; a faith which does not falter in the face of the greatest trials. And like Job, we must keep the faith no matter what we face.
Today, I would like to focus on two ideas: Faith, and hope. I think to really talk about hope; about the importance of hope in our Christian journeys, and about having hope, we have to acknowledge that there are times in our lives when things are so bad it is as if all hope is lost. So we begin today with Job, who was in such a situation himself.
As we know, Job is hit with one trial after another. And in the passage we hear this morning, Job is at his wits end. He admits a bitter complaint. Job acknowledges a heavy hand, despite his groaning. Job expresses his desire to go before God in trial, desperate to be free of his many difficulties, but laments that even this is not possible because he cannot find God; God is absent. Job cries out that his heart is faint and he is terrified.
I think we all have at least a sense of what Job is feeling; perhaps at times such feelings have been more prevalent than at others, but it doesn't change the fact that there are times when we desperately need God and it seems as if God simply is not there.
I believe we are all familiar with Mother Teresa; known the world over for her work with the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying in the slums of Calcutta, India. By all measures, she was and is an exemplar of the Christian faith. But as we began learning after her death in 1997, Mother Teresa's faith was not as rock-solid as outward appearances would indicate. Like so many who seek after God, Mother Teresa struggled in the midst of great doubt, wondering about the presence of God.
In 1979, three weeks after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for her work, Mother Teresa wrote in a letter to a spiritual confidant, "Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,--Listen and do not hear—the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak...l want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."
In personal letters and writings, Mother Teresa spoke of "dryness" and "darkness." In a lament to Jesus, Mother Teresa wrote, "When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me —and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul." At times, she was even driven to a doubt about the existence of God. This spiritual pain seemed to persist through much of Mother Teresa's life and ministry.
The truth is we all have periods of "darkness" in our lives. We all face the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one. Or we agonize in watching a loved one suffer. Some struggle themselves in the face of overwhelming illness or disease. Parents worry about their children; sons and daughters worry about their parents. Families break and marriages dissolve, leaving nothing but stress and depression in their wake. Presently, we are facing the darkness of a financial recession; once soon-to-be retirees have lost a lifetime of savings. Jobs are disappearing left and right.
Such darkness in our lives is compounded when we cry out to God for help and for comfort and find no response, no reprieve, no respite from the agony. How can there be hope in the face of such hardships?
All is not lost. There is always hope. But hope is nothing without faith. The eleventh chapter of the letter in Hebrews begins this way, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
Faith brings assurance to hope. Our hope lies in the future, but it is mere optimism if we do not have faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. As difficult as it may be; in the "darkness" of our lives, we must seek to maintain our faith in God and hold fast to it.
As we heard this morning, even as Job laments the absence of God, he forges ahead, persisting in his search for God. "God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me." Job says, "Yet 1 am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face." Job is persisting in his faith. Despite the darkness cloaking his life, Job declared that he would not be silent, that he would continue to cry out for God. When we are relentless in our faith, we can hold on to hope.
Mother Teresa, too, continually sought after her faith even in the darkest despair. She found ways to live through her spiritual struggles, and she never abandoned her belief or her work.
That is our task too. If you are like me, then you have wondered how Mother Teresa maintained her belief and forged ahead in her work in Calcutta. Throughout her life and career, Mother Teresa had spiritual advisors and confidants. In perhaps her darkest hour of doubt, her spiritual advisor, Joseph Neuner, told her three things she desperately needed to hear, and things that we need to hear too. Rev. Neuner told Teresa that there is no human remedy for the "darkness" we sometimes find ourselves in. He told her that feeling Jesus is not the only proof of his being there, and that her very craving for God was a sure sign of God's hidden presence in her life. And finally, Neuner advised Mother Teresa that the absence she sensed was a part of the "spiritual side" of her work for Jesus.
We were created to long for God. We are designed to desire God in our lives. God has made humanity this way. And when it seems that God is completely absent, this craving, as Neuner says, is a sure sign of God's hidden presence in our lives. This longing becomes the basis for faith, and with this deep desire for God within us, we must forge ahead. If we are to maintain faith in the dark hours of our lives, it requires patient perseverance.
When John Wesley himself was in the throes of a period of doubt in his life, the German preacher, Peter Bohler said this to him, "Preach faith until you have it, then, because you have it, you will preach faith." We must preach faith until we have it, so to speak. We have to be diligent in our prayer life; even if that means our prayers are full of laments in God's absence. We have to study God's Word through the Scriptures. We have to abstain from those things which distract our attention from God. We must follow God's call and seek God's will. Of course, none of these things are easy, but they are the building blocks of our faith and in turn our hope. In the midst of everything, Job never stops talking to God, and neither can we.
Job may not understand how God hears him, but it is a statement of faith that Job is able to voice even his pain and confusion to God. We are better off to rail against God as Job does, or cry out to God in pain as Mother Teresa does, than to turn away from God in our time of darkness. God has willingly entered into an hour of darkness on our behalf.
God in Jesus Christ came to this earth and subjected himself to hatred, brutality, and even death, so that we might have hope. Will we shun that great act? We know God more fully because God incarnate walked on this earth.
We know God's love and grace more fully because Jesus not only taught us about God's love and grace, he demonstrated it as well. Might we know God more fully even when God seems
absent? In some way, we often come to know the meaning of a thing through its absence rather than its presence.
Think of it this way. A carpenter goes into his well-furnished workshop, complete with stacks of wood, containers of nails, and racks and racks of tools. As the carpenter focuses on the work of his project, he thinks very little of the individual items. The wood, the nails, the hammer are simply taken for granted as part of the carpenter's activity. But then, in the midst of his diligent work, the hammer breaks as the shaft snaps off at the head. Suddenly, the carpenter is acutely aware of the hammer. Once simply taken for granted, the image of the hammer, what it does, how essential it is to his work, are all vividly present to the carpenter precisely because of its absence.
So it was for Job, who felt not the justice of God, and so longed for it even more. So it was for Mother Teresa, whose soul was empty, and so she prayed God's hand at work in her life all the more. And so it shall be for us, if we hold fast to the faith as Job did and as Mother Teresa did. God's love and passion are no less real to those who hold fast the faith than the hammer is to the carpenter.
God's time is not our time.
God's ways are not always our ways.
But we have known and experienced God's love in our own lives; that is most likely the reason we are all gathered here this morning. And having known and experienced God's grace and love, we can doubt its existence no more than our own reality.
The Bible teaches us that if we meet the trials of life with the steadfast constancy of faith in Christ, life becomes infinitely more splendid than it ever was before. The struggle is the way to glory, and the very struggle itself is a glory.
So, in those deepest, darkest hours of our lives, we can have faith because we already know of the reality of God's love through Jesus Christ. When that darkness stretches on for weeks, or months, or even years, we must cling to that faith and strive after it.
And in our striving after faith, we will find hope.
All is not lost. God is at work in this world. God is at work in our
lives. And that, friends, is a glorious thing.
Malachi chapter 3 vs 8-12
Second Corinthian's chapter 9. Vs 6-8
Gods people are called into a "covenant" with God.
Be it the Old Testament, or in the New Testament time. We are to honour Him. We are called to be different, To "not" be like the world! Not to be selfish.
But generous towards God and others.
God's covenants/promises are
The book of Malachi the prophet, is laid out as a "personal letter from God to his people".
And is the last book in the Old Testament. His name means "My messenger". He was called to be a spokesperson for God to a people that were growing weary of Serving God. We read about bored Priests and hard hearted people. The nation of Israel was "going through the motions". Cynicism was rampant. Not unlike the way things are today. I'd like to give a brief overview of the outline of the book. But concentrate on the passage that speaks of "tithing".
And I want us to notice that no matter how far we stray from God. Cynical. Or weary of serving. Disobedient. Not trusting God and doubting His love for us. Realize that. God is always there with open arms waiting for us to change our heart and turn to Him.
Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. 3:7 The outline of the book is this.
Chapter 3 verse 8.
Will a man rob God? Yet you have Robbed me! But you say, in what way have we robbed you? In tithes and offerings. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed me, even this whole nation. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and try me now in this, says the Lord of hosts. if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. 11 and I will rebuke the devourer for your sake's, so that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground, nor shall the vinefail to bear fruit for you in the field, says the Lord of hosts. 12 and all the nations will call you blessed, for you will be a delightful land, says the Lord of hosts.
Notice first. The style of writing. Conversation or dialogue between God and his people. God reasoning with Israel. And their pathetic response.
I want to clarify something... and point out something as well...
For us today. Holding onto our money and not being generous toward God and in our case the ministry of the local church. is just plain wrong! And we need to have our attitudes on this subject correct.
My personal experience with tithing....
This passage of scripture has been missused so many times to manipulate. To make it say something that it doesn't. And has caused people so much pain. In that they are pressured, coerced into giving way beyond what they can possibly afford to various so-called "ministries" "Church leaders" With the promise of. Getting rich.
This "prosperity gospel" message that is very prevalent today among TV evangelists.
Is dangerous, and is a complete and utter lie... don't believe it, you'll hear the same "preachers"blame people and say,,, if it doesn't work, well then you just don't have enough faith etc." For God cannot lie"/ They misinterpret, miss represent God! And His word.
But that doesn't mean we should throw out the baby with the bath water because people manipulate and twist the word of God... we must rightly divide the word of truth.
Tithing, giving is one of those subjects that preachers don't like to give. Because of all the abuse thats out there. So I will do it on behalf of Rockburn presbyterian church...
The whole topic of giving... How much? 10%. 15%. 5%.
Paul gives us a pretty good understanding in the new testament
2nd Corinthian's chapter 9 vs 6-8 notice it's not a question of percentage but of the heart!
But I say, he who sows Sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 so let each one give as he purposes and his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 and God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.
So here we see that is not an old testament thing... It is for us today. But that it is an "attitude of the heart" We are to give cheerfully, generously, We don't do it to get rich. We don't do it to get noticed. And we realize that it is a blessing. A true blessing towards Gods work. There is no set amount other than that which we decide in our heart to give. We should stick to that and trust God to provide and to bless us. And noticed that the more we give and the more we learn to trust the more we will be willing to give.
So you see in conclusion..
We are called to honour God. To put him as our top priority.
If you wanna know how people feel about something. Look at where they spend their money!
The very act of tithing is both an act of worship. And reveals our trust in Him to provide for us, for his workers. And work. Personally, materially and spiritually.
In doing this we share in God's plans. We invest in eternity.
I am reminded of the passage. Luke chapter 12 verse 34. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"...
God has made a promise to us, he has made a covenant with his church. He's making a promise to you today. For We are called to be different than the world. In that we are not to be selfish and hoard all our riches. But we are called to honour and obey God in all things.
Are we ready to trust him with money.
Can we rob God? Yes we can,,, let's not! Let us be cheerful giver's from now on.
CALL TO WORSHIP:
ONE: The Spirit of God is upon us.
ALL: We are called to be God's people. ONE: The Spirit of God is upon us.
ALL: We are called to be the body of Christ.
ONE: Come let us worship God, who binds us together in love and service.
WELCOME: The Spirit of God is upon us. This is a holy place and we are a holy people. The joy of God is our strength. All of us, with all our gifts, we are the body of Christ.
OPENING PRAYER: 0 wondrous God, on this holy day, we have gathered together once again after our summer break. We are here to celebrate Your presence among us, to praise You and to thank You for all You have given us. May this time of worship strengthen and refresh us, and fill us with such joy that we cannot help but share it with everyone around us. Though we are very different people, with many different talents and gifts, make us one in Your Spirit, that we may be Your disciples in the world. Amen
PRAYER OF CONFESSION & THE LORD'S PRAYER: 0 God, You call us to be Your presence, Your body in this world, but too often we get caught up in other things and lose sight of the greater mission You set before us. We go our separate ways, forgetting we need each other to be whole. You have given us Your law to be our guide, but we often turn our backs on what we see as rules and restrictions, fearful that we won't live up to Your expectations. Help us to see with new eyes, and hear with the ears of our heart, the liberating spirit of the law that strengthens and revives and enables us to be and do all You call us to be and do. Lord, help us to be faithful witnesses to Your law of love and unity. This we pray in Your name. Amen.
MEDITATION: Living For The Lord
A Jewish man moved into a Catholic neighbourhood. Every Friday the Catholics went crazy because, while they were morosely eating fish, the Jew was outside barbecuing steaks. So the Catholics worked on the Jew to convert him. Finally, by threats and pleading, the Catholics succeeded. They took the Jew to a priest who sprinkled holy water on him, and said, "Born a Jew, raised a Jew, now a Catholic."
The Catholics were ecstatic. No more delicious, maddening smells every Friday evening, they thought. But the next Friday evening the scent of barbecue wafted through the neighbourhood once again. The Catholics all rushed to the new convert's house to remind him of his new diet. They saw him standing over the grilled steak sprinkling it with water. As he did so he said, "Born a cow, raised a cow, now a fish."
Change is difficult for most of us. Diversity is all around us, but not all of us are big fans. Or perhaps we're too set in our ways to accept all the changes happening around us. Our entertainment choices are numerous, we have a wide selection of goods at the grocery store. There are a wide variety of ethnic restaurants to choose from and good luck making a choice when buying a new car.
Wherever we go we meet people from different countries, with different cultures, speaking different languages. Many people are enthusiastic about the increase in diversity. The combination of races, cultures and opinions gives us an opportunity to learn and grow and better understand one another.
Other people are not so enthusiastic. Diversity has led to fear and insecurity. There is political division, racial and gender division, cultural and economic division. All these things have always been around, but today, they are much more prevalent.
So what does God have to say about it all? In Galatians 3:28 it states, "Now, in Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Greek. There is no difference between slaves and free men. There is no difference between male and female. You are all the same in Christ Jesus." The church is called to be a Christ-centered community of diversity. The power of God can overcome the divisions that set people against each other. People must live together touched by God's grace. However, more than we like, the divisions of the world are brought into the church. Women are discriminated against, racial segregation still persists, and there is bullying throughout are communities. There are difference in the way people practice their various religions which causes distrust by so many. Differences of this kind have strained relationships among people for generations.
Ever since the days of the Roman church there have been diversity problems which we know from Paul's letters. Some argued over whether or not to celebrate special holy days and they took these issues very seriously. And this brought about division in the church. So why do differences have to divide people? Whether in the workplace, in social gatherings, or in church, why does diversity bring about such devastating divisions?
On the whole, we tend to be wary of people who aren't like us. If they don't look like us, act like us or think like us, we tend to back away. The make us feel uncomfortable and even afraid. And it's that fear that can cause us to lash out. Think about the Mosque shooting in Quebec City. The people who differ from us aren't necessarily against us.
If someone disagrees with our opinion, we are often upset or hurt. The religious leaders in Jesus' time weren't too pleased with Him when He challenged them. They questioned His motives and lashed back by saying the healings and miracles He performed were done by demonic power.
People who have different interests or opinions can often become competitive. People can easily become so intent on defending their beliefs that they can't see the bigger picture. Differences aren't going to just disappear. So how can we live with them in a way that honours Christ and is good for the church?
Have you ever met a miser? If you have, you know that this kind of a person is not very well liked. A miser tends to be very selfish and almost hermit-like. They are loners and they're often hoarders. And there are other people in the world who aren't misers, but they too are selfish. People are selfish when they neglect to help others, or when they injure another person, physically or emotionally, to get what they want.
Now, consider this question carefully. Did you ever do something all by yourself. For example, you have your morning breakfast, then you go outside and chop some wood. You're alone, but you really didn't chop the wood by yourself. Who made the ax? Who transported it to the store? Who sold it to you? If you think of it this way, there aren't too many things you've done by yourself! We have to work with one another and each one of us is dependent upon others.
Think about all the people who helped you get ready to come here this morning. Let's start with your shoes. How many people worked on those? Farmers, tanners, factory workers, transport people, carpenters, lumbermen, shoe salespeople. That's quite a list just to get you a pair of shoes. Then, besides your shoes, there are socks, pants, skirts, dresses, sweaters, each with a long list of people who worked on them.
In Romans 14:7 & 8, Paul wrote, "For we don't live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it's to honour the Lord. And if we die, it's to honour the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord." We need to come to terms with the fact that not one of us can stand alone. We need each other to do what God calls us to do. Only as we live together, differences included, are we ready to serve God. We're not perfect and we all need to be forgiven as well as to forgive.
God calls us together with our differences. He has given us each other. We each fill in what is missing in the other. Together, even with our differences, we need to be ready to serve God. In the words of scripture, "Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God."
Paul tried desperately to try to get the people to understand that embracing difference would be the gateway to spiritual life and strength and growth. Paul was going around the ancient world setting up churches and establishing congregations wherever he went. But the Roman church had differences and Paul wanted to instill in the congregation a sense of vision for the future.
Paul tells the Christians of the church that the way they speak to each other, the way they interact with one another and the way they cope with differences, is really a reflection to the world of how Christ responds to difference and how Christ wants to interact with the world. Paul is saying that we are reflecting God to the world in our words and actions. What people see of us, they see of God, and we need to live up to that responsibility.
Paul spoke of our common unity in the church and urged us to demonstrate 5 virtues — humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace. We are one body, with one spirit, with one hope, having one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God. We are not on this earth for the purpose of being served. We are here to serve God. May we always be the church God has called us to be, because at the end of the day, despite our differences, the church is at its best when we are able, in unity, to glorify and serve God.
"For we don't live for ourselves or die for ourselves." As a church community we need to be nudged along. We need encouragement. We need kindness and understanding. We need each other. We mustn't be selfish and think only of ourselves. We should be like a fountain, bubbling all the time, refreshing the thirsty, cooling those who are hot and tired. There are so many tired and weary people in the world. Let's leave here today and go into our community and beyond, determined to do our share.
Let's bow our heads in prayer. Dear Lord, just as it was when Jesus made His home on earth, the world can be a cruel and hateful place. We ask that you would guide our actions as believers. Give us an eagerness to be humble and gentle. Help us have hearts of patience and endurance. Thank you for the hope we have in You. May Your hope unify our thoughts and decisions and bring peace through the Spirit. Amen.
BENEDICTION: Read Responsively
ONE: The Spirit of God is upon you.
ALL: We go forth proclaiming God's love and liberation.
ONE: The Spirit of Christ is upon you.
ALL: We go forth to live lives of justice and freedom.
ONE: The power of the Spirit is upon you.
ALL: We go forth as one body, one spirit, one witness to the promises of our God.
That’s What Fathers Do
It is said that Jesus had two fathers, Joseph, the husband of Mary, his earthly father, and also his heavenly father about whom he taught us the Lord’s Prayer, Our Father.
Not much has been passed on to us about Joseph, but what we do know is that he was an honourable hard working carpenter. When Mary became pregnant while unmarried, Joseph offered her marriage and a home so that she would not be subject to scandal and so that her child, Jesus, would be raised with proper parents. Later, when it became clear that the edict by Herod the king put Jesus’ life in danger, Joseph arranged to spirit them away to Egypt in the dead of night, so no harm would befall the babe. He didn’t have to do this. He could have sacrificed the life of the child and kept their lifestyle otherwise stable. After all, Jesus wasn’t his child. But Joseph couldn’t let that happen. Jesus had become his stepchild, and the first thing a loving father does is to protect his family. That’s what fathers do, and Joseph did it without hesitation.
Now, in a somewhat similar vein, I myself had two fathers, plus naturally our father in heaven. You see, my mother and my natural father separated in 1949 back in Budapest when I was 5 years old. It just about broke my heart because I loved my father. He used to take me once a year to an amusement park whose greatest feature was this huge wooden roller coaster. At the end of our day’s activities, my father would top it off with a grand finale, a ride on the roller coaster. And when the ride was over and I realized our day was coming to an end, I would beg my father for just one final ride, a second pass on that magic rail. And, naturally, he would give in to my pleading and let me have one last ride. Why? Because that’s what fathers do.
Several years ago, I wrote a short poem in memory of these times, and I tried to re-create my feelings in the language of a 5-year-old. (The words that need small translation are: Anyu (Mom), Apu (Dad), and hulam vasut (roller-coaster).
‘Angol Park’ (English Park) June 12, 1997
Pick me up at the oom-pah-pah
Stride me down to the village fair
Ride me round the merry-go-round
Let me look at the dancing bear
Can I fly my rubber band plane
From the loft of the princess tower?
May we stay even in the rain?
‘Anyu’ won’t mind an extra hour (Anyu=Mom)
Take me right to the bumper cars
I want to be the very first
Did you see, did you see that funny clown?
He made me laugh till my belly burst
‘Apu’ I know what I want to do
You promised after the rifle shoot
Before we go home, to wait our turn
For an extra ride on the ‘hulam vasut’ (hulam vasut=roller coaster)
Copyright Ó 1997, Joe (Josh) Hevesy, all rights reserved.
Yes, this is what fathers do.
But my other earthly dad was William Hevesy, my stepfather, whom my mother later married. I would like to describe him from a short excerpt of a 4-part story I wrote about our escape from communist Hungary in 1949.
“We stayed in that room/apartment for about a week. During that time, my mother kept trying to get me to call Mr. Will 'Edesapu.' (Dear Dad) But I insisted equally as often that he wasn't my Edesapu (Dear Dad). My father, I knew well enough, was back in our apartment in Budapest, and I had no intention of replacing him with Mr. Will, nice enough though he was.
One day, Mr. Will showed me magic tricks with his hands and played a little game with me. He got me to chuckle and have a good time. It was the first time since we'd left home that I was in a really good mood.
Later that same day, my mother whispered quietly to me. "Jozsikam, it was wrong of me to ask you to call Mr. Will, Edesapu. You will only ever have one Edesapu. You might not see him again for a long time. I'm really, really sorry about that. But we will write to him. I'll teach you how. And someday you will see him again. I promise. Meanwhile, Mr. Will is a very nice man, isn't he?"
"So, don't call him, Edesapu. I don't want you to. But you know what will make him very happy?"
I shook my head.
"Call him Apu (Dad). That will make him very happy."
A few days later, I shyly went up to Mr. Will and said, "Apu, can you show me that magic trick again?"
"What's that?" he said with his confident voice. "What did you call me?"
"Apu," I replied very softly. With that he bounded across to me in one giant step, picked me up into his arms and gave me a bear hug that almost smothered my 5 years of life out me. I was proud to call him Apu to his face until the day he died, 50 years later.”
He gave me love, protection, and a fine example of what a man should be…because that’s what fathers do.
And, you know, fathers show love and pride in their children. They accompany them to their school activities, coach them in sports, root for them at all times and leave them with the message, “You can be anything you want to be in life.”
In fact, isn’t this what God Himself displayed about His son, Jesus? He showed up at Jesus’ baptism to show His support and pride …
In Matthew 13 it is written:
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him,c and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;17and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son,d with whom I am well pleased.”
This, is what fathers do.
Here are three real stories I’d like to share with you from 3 different people talking about experiences they’ve had with their fathers
by Nancy Perkins, St. Johns, Michigan
My dad died unexpectedly at age 78, leaving our family heartbroken. During the funeral mass, my sister felt her phone vibrate in her purse. She was a little surprised that someone would be calling her, knowing she was at dad’s funeral mass. Afterward, she found there was a message: “Hi, this is your dad,” said the male voice. “I wanted to let you know I made it home.” The caller obviously had the wrong number, but the message was clear. My dad had completed his journey to heaven and wanted us to know. Thanks, Dad—until we meet again.
What an incredible adventure. Yes, the thought of life after death gives us pause. But this woman just knew that this ‘coincidence’ was an actual message from her dad to tell her, Hey! It’s quite all right over here, and I’m fine.
HOW I LEARNED THE VALUE OF WORK
by Rudy Berdine, Irvine, California
My dad owned a fruit market on a busy street. The sidewalk in front of his store collected dust and trash, which needed to be swept daily. At age six, I used to hide behind bags of potatoes when my dad asked me to sweep, but while sweeping one day, I began to find dollar bills under the dust and trash. I had no idea where the money came from. My dad had been putting money on the sidewalk—and soon, I was happy to sweep even when no money was found.
My dad had a different slant on teaching me the value of discipline. The first summer I worked for him he told me, “The bus leaves at 8. Make sure you’re on it.” Well, the next morning I was ready to go, but it was a few minutes after 8. When I looked for my dad, he was nowhere around. When I asked my grandmother where he was, she said he left a few minutes ago. No reminder. No calling out to me. Just gone. Well, let me tell you, it didn’t happen twice. After that, I was always ready to leave at 8 sharp.
THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO FAMILY
by Rachel O’Connor, Westtown, New York
“Linda, look at the map!” My father slammed on the brakes, glaring at my mom. He didn’t believe in excessive planning, and so each summer we embarked on a spontaneous family road trip that didn’t always go smoothly. There were lots of late-night panics to find hotels, stops to ask for directions, and elevated tempers. One night, we picked up a hitchhiker somewhere in Kentucky. As we blasted the radio and my dad bought us all ice cream, the hitchhiker told me he’d give his life to have what I had.
No two families are the same. But this family’s glue was the secret, sacred ingredient, a father who cared. And that’s what fathers do.
You see, our heavenly father doesn’t care how smart we are, how hard working we are, how strong or how good looking or how talented we are. No, He loves us, all of us, unconditionally. No matter how many times we screw up. He’s always there.
You know, Sue and I have three sons. The oldest and the youngest seem to be able to stand on their own two feet and make their way successfully through the world. Our second boy, Chris, suffers from schizophrenia and has proven to be a challenge for us at times, but mainly a challenge to himself. When he was younger it was suggested to us by certain authority figures that maybe he needs to be left to go his own way. Maybe that’s what he needs to, as they said, to straighten up and come around. But Sue and I wouldn’t allow that to happen. We should give up on our son? No, never. We’ll be there for him until our final breath, no matter what. Because that’s what fathers do….and that’s what mothers do.
Today, Chris lives in a group home in Kitchener-Waterloo and seems content. Oh, yes. Sometimes we still have occasional moments when we worry, like the time recently when his medication was changed without our knowledge and he seemed to have a mood change. But I got in my car, drove down there, had a meeting with his care workers, and straightened things out. When we visited him on his birthday a couple weeks ago, he said he’s much better again. We told him how pleased we were. Yes, families often present challenges, but as fathers – and mothers – our job is there to rise to those challenges and be there – always – for our children, just as our heavenly father is there always for us.
That’s what fathers do.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
This morning we welcome proud parents Taylor Lamb who bring their son Jasper John Lamb to be baptized… joining them are sister Georgina , God Parents: Lena McClintock & Garry Mathieu, Grandparents: Jack & Brenda Lamb, Alison Hardy ,James McClintock Great Gramma Eleanor Lamb and numerous other family members.
Call to Worship
God calls us to a Baptism! God calls us to a feast!
The fountain is filled, The table is set,
and we will come from east and west,
from north and south to sit in God’s house.
Compassion, love, and grace are poured out like fine wine.
We come to share our stories,
to share our hope and our pain,
to share our wisdom and our laughter.
The fountain is filled, The table is set,
so come let us worship God together!
The Sacrament of Baptism - Randy
The Presentation – Shirley McNaughton
Renunciation and Affirmation
Prayer of Thanksgiving
The Act of Baptizing
The Declaration and Welcome
The Prayers of the People
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Invitation to the Lord’s Table
Preparation of the Table
The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving
The Communion –
The Breaking of Bread & Drinking of the Cup
Prayer after Communion
Does the Church still matter?
Is the church really important? I mean, really, really important in the grand scheme of things?
When someone needs medical attention, they go to the doctor. When someone needs to learn to read, they go to school. When someone needs legal advice, they go to a lawyer. When someone needs water, they go to the faucet. Food? Head to the fridge or the pantry.
But where do we go when we need hope? Where do we go when we need spiritual guidance, or a renewal of faith?
This is a crazy world. It's a scary world, with threats of missiles and global conflict in Syria. It's a tragic world, with the horrible crash in Saskatchewan. It's a confusing world, where evil and selfish people seem to get ahead while honest, hardworking folks have to scrimp to get by.
Our world needs the church, because there are things only the church can provide for people: The church can be a source of hope for the hopeless. It can be a soft, quiet voice in a boisterous and screaming world. It can offer answers to questions that make us uneasy, or unsure.
I hope, than as we examine the question of the church's importance today, we can be reminded about why this place matters in our lives, and that we can use the answers to challenge one another to live more fully in our covenant with Christ.
The church is a place of refuge that we continually come to throughout our whole lives. We are baptized there when we are babies. We have the opportunity to attend Sunday school and youth groups when we're young. We celebrate love through marriage, and sorrow as we say goodbye to our loved ones who pass on.
The church us a place where we share and develop our talents: Maybe we sing as a member of the choir.... Maybe we play the organ (and, by the way, my son Quinn just played his first Sunday as organist at Dundee last week!) or share talents with woodworking or repair. Maybe our talents lie in the kitchen, and aren't these folks popular! Pies and sweets, church dinners, I'm hungry just thinking about it!
The church helps us to better know our community: Through pastoral care, and outreach in elderly care homes and schools, through card parties and sing-alongs, we meet and share with our neighbours that same love that we know and experience through our relationship with Christ.
The church is a place where we continue to learn what it means to be a Christian; what it means to serve Christ and serve others.
And as I said earlier: The church can be a refuge from a lost and broken world. The church CAN be a place free from the hatred and judgement by which we are sometimes bombarded. The church CAN be a place where ALL people are welcomed as children of God, despite what the outside world might think of them. The church CAN be a place a place where forgiveness is offered without cost. It's not always perfect, because WE are not always perfect, but it CAN be a place where we aspire to bring closer the Kingdom of God.
We are all here this morning; every Sunday morning; at every concert, church dinner or other event, because the church means something to each and every one of us. And, as much as the church about affecting and changing the lives of we as individuals, it's also about affecting and changing the world. Here's why: Christ is no longer here anymore. That is to say: He is not physically present on this earth as he was two thousand years ago. That means that if people are going to experience Christ, they have to do it in a different way.
Christ knew that his ascension was coming, so as we heard this morning, after his resurrection Christ went to his disciples and commissioned them. That's just a fancy way of saying that he told them to go out and continue the work he had started in His name. He sent them out into the world as witnesses to his ministry, to preach repentance and forgiveness and share the good news of the Kingdom of God. Once he had effectively assured his continuing presence here on Earth, the assurance of his continuing ministry, he left them and ascended into Heaven.
That was the very beginning of the church, and it is also the very reason that the church matters in this world. What might have happened if Christ had ascended into Heaven without sending his disciples out as witnesses and ministers? What would have happened if those disciples had decided that they had had enough of Jesus' ministry and that they should head back to their families?
That would have sealed the end of the church right there.
Christ would have spent his few short years on this earth living, teaching, healing, dying and being resurrected................ And then would have been forgotten within a few generations. The healing would have faded away. The promise of eternal life would have been broken. The hope that he stood for would have been lost in history. Christ's love and the promise of salvation would have been limited to those few people that he had encountered during his brief time on earth.
Another risk that the early church faced came from the fact that the disciples didn't seem to believe that Jesus actually had been resurrected. Our reading today tells us that, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were terrified! They thought that they were being visited by a ghost! A spector... An apparition!
And here's the strange part of this reading: Why did the disciples struggle to believe and understand? Had Jesus failed to warn them in advance about what was going to happen to him?
Actually, the gospels tell us that Jesus had been predicting his death and resurrection for some time before the actual events of Easter week. Sometimes he spoke in deliberately vague Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." (John 2:18-19)
However, in other places, Jesus speaks plainly and directly about his imminent arrest, death, and resurrection: Matthew 16:21 tells us:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Matthew 16:21)
If they had been so specifically forewarned—and especially if they knew in advance that Jesus would rise from the dead—why were the disciples so confused and frightened during the drama of Easter week?
Ultimately, we don't know the answer.
Surely, much of their confusion was simply the result of their being, well, human—like everyone else, they were prone to doubting things that were beyond their earthly understanding.
And we might consider that Jesus' teachings profoundly challenged the religious assumptions they had grown up with. Because Jesus taught both in plain speech and in parables, the disciples might have had trouble understanding when he was speaking literally and when metaphorically. Perhaps, even though they'd seen him work many life-giving miracles, the disciples couldn't bring themselves to believe Jesus' most dramatic claim—that he would die and rise from the grave. And the events of Easter week were stressful, to say the least.
But fortunately for us, and for billions and billions of other people over the last two thousand years, it didn't happen that way.
The disciples got out, got busy, and took up the mantle of their role as witnesses and ministers. They kept his message alive by sharing the good news all across the world. And the new disciples that they made in turn insured that the church would continue beyond their lifetimes and into the future.
Today, we as members and disciples of the church can do no less! If we in the church don't continue Christ's ministry, no one else will. That.... That is why the church matters.
He helped the poor. He forgave those who sinned. He shared God's grace and God's love. He died on the cross so that we might learn the way to eternal life. That......................... That is why the church matters.
It is as fundamental as the difference between life and death, and it's the church's responsibility to get that message out to people and communities across the world. Through Christ's message of peace and love, lives can and will be changed. And That... That is why the church matters.
Paul said to the Colossians: "He is the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: Things in Heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
The church is the body of Christ, and the body of his teachings. We are his mouth, his ears, his hands and feet in this world. We are witnesses to the good news, and messengers to take that news across our communities and across the world. That is both a great responsibility and a great privilege. The church has the power to help and heal people across the world from now until the end of time, as long as we keep the message alive. Like those first disciples who came to believe in the resurrection and went out to bear witness, the church depends on us. It depends on us going out into the world and saying "You want to know
what the love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of Christ means? Well, take a look at this! Look at what's happening here! See these very lives being changed!"
The church really does matter. Look at the world today. Our world hurts. In Parkland, Florida where a shooting in a school cost many lives. In Humbolt, Saskatchewan where a community and the world were stunned by a recent tragedy. In Syria and other battlefields across the world where both civilian and soldiers die every day.
When the television is on and the news is all bad. Where relationships fail because we prefer to tap fingers to our phone instead of engaging in conversation. When there is never enough money to keep up with the bills we have to pay. When the stress of our lives leads to despair and disease.
It is easier to see the world as a bleak and daunting place than a place of beauty and light. it is easier to find apathy and fear than kindness and love. But, through the church, God in Christ Jesus is able to offer justice, peace and blessings. Christ is able to bring hope to the midst of hurt. Christ's love feeds the hungry, heals the sick and forgives the sinner.
Above all, Christ brings unconditional love and abundant life. Through his ministry and teachings, we can find the strength to make it through this world. Through Christ, we can find the joy of this life, and the life to come. Through our discipleship out in the world, the church makes it possible for people to have real encounters with Christ's love
And that... That is why the church matters.
Update to Morgan's trip to Haiti
Because of the present situation in Haiti, Morgan has decided not to go there, but instea is helping out from here. Her friends have decided to go nevertheless. Our prayers for a safe journey and their safe return.
Webmaster's note: This is part 2 of Joe's message which started on Feb 11th.
Good Morning, and welcome to my Sunday morning message which I am calling,
The last time I spoke to you, I talked about the road to happiness and said that it is a road we all walk on. It is a dream we all chase. I mentioned that we as humans chase two kinds of happiness. The happy-ness with a ‘y’ which is the happiness that is temporary, the physical happiness of a gift or an experience, the happiness that comes and goes, day in and day out, and that we often have little or no control over. Examples might range from a small snack to a great banquet, from a Sunday drive to a world cruise, from a modest apartment to a 100-acre ranch. All wonderful experiences, but also all tinged with a certain sadness. Why? Because none outlast a physical timeframe. None give us eternal satisfaction. All are a part of this material world in which we are born and in which we die. We are left wondering…Can we expect anything more?
We are asked by our bible teachers to believe, but we again ask why. And no matter how many ways or how many times we ask the question, we still wonder what it’s all about. We are told God is the way to ultimate happiness In the Gospel of John it is written…
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…… This ‘Word’ we acknowledge to be the Second Person, the Son of God.
The Gospel carries on to say that nothing has been made except it was made through God, and that if we believe in Him, we all become children of God. Which is all beautiful. It is a glorious idea. But still it leaves us with questions.
Anne Graham Lotz in her article, “Why God Why?” puts her questions this way,
My mother's pale, gaunt face was transformed into wreathes of joy when I walked through the door of her hospital room. Although her eyes seemed sunken, they sparkled with the zest for life that is her own special trademark. With IVs dangling from her arms, she lifted her trembling hands to welcome me. I embraced her frail body, feeling the heat of her temperature and the protrusion of her bones through the thin hospital gown. She was unable to speak clearly, so I just patted her and sat down nearby. Within moments, she was asleep. And I was left to wonder, Why? Why does my mother's life seem to be ending in suffering and, at times, confusion? Why, after a life lived selflessly for others, must her old age be, in some ways, a curse?
Yet I was reminded that unanswerable questions are not restricted to any particular age group when my son recently went through a series of tests to determine his physical condition five years after cancer surgery. The whys buzz through my head like irritating mental insects: Why? Why is my handsome, six-foot-nine-inch, 32-year-old son still stalked by the shadow of this horrific disease?
During the times when you and I can't trace God's hand of purpose, we must trust His heart of love. While wrestling with the illnesses of my mother and son, a beloved young friend was entering into the living death that is divorce. Why? Why doesn't God melt the heart of the offending spouse and bring that person to genuine repentance so the marriage can be saved?
And once again, the angel of death has struck, this time taking the life of the beloved pastor who ministered to my family and shepherded me through my formative years. Why?
And before that personal loss, I had other "whys."
Why would God let 110 fathers of unborn children perish in the collapse of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001?
Why would God withhold children from godly parents and give them to a mother who would bash in their heads with a rock or drown them in a bathtub?
Why would God allow thousands of people to lose their pensions because of greedy corporate executives who are padding their own retirement fortunes?
Why would God allow the kidnapping of babies and children for the perverted pleasure of some pedophile?
Why do the young die? Why do the wicked prosper?
In meditating on these themes, let me begin to answer them by saying that we are not alone with these thoughts. In fact, from the beginning of time, when people have first begun to gaze at the stars, such questions have been asked, and clear answers have been hidden behind a screen in some other dimension. Nevertheless, in every primitive human society, every remote tribe, no matter how isolated, no matter how different, no matter what strange ritual they might follow, has believed in God. Oh, they might not call it God. It might be Yahwheh, or Baal, or the Great Spirit, or a hundred thousand other names. But every one has acknowledged the presence of such a Creator, whatever form it might take.
If you allow me, I will tell you of a true personal experience that took place many years ago and that nudged me over the line and convinced me to believe. I always speculated on such matters from a very young age. In my teens I thought about becoming a Catholic priest but my three sons are happy I didn’t go that way. And so am I. Well, one night after reading from one of my favourite books, The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis, I went to sleep with thoughts of belief and non-belief swirling through my head.
Some time in the very early morning, between the hours of midnight and dusk, I awoke from a dream state, or maybe I should say I awoke into a dream state. In this state, not fully realizing where I was, I felt myself being drawn over, over into what I can only call, the other side. And when I was partially in that place, sort of half here and half there, I felt a heavenly calm come over me. I can truly attest that never before, or since, have I ever felt that way. Suddenly, the realization hit me that if I kept floating along like this, I just might pass all the way over to wherever I was drifting.
And I got suddenly very scared. And that fear sucked me back like a mighty surge, and I was all here again, fully awake. And sweating. So, I jumped out of bed because I wanted to capture as completely as I could this unique but glorious experience. So, I started to write. And I wrote it all out in words that became a poem, a poem that had a form I had never used before. I have never recited it before to anyone, so please bear with me and see if you can share in some small way with my experience.
I call this ‘Assurance’……
I woke within the framework of the night
And felt the silent presence of the dead
As if they lingered floating in my head
In chambers lacking roof or walls or bed.
I stepped inside expecting to be led
Past alabaster angels but instead
A hollow toneless madrigal was read
By figments, of implicit pending dread.
I strained to see some path that I might light
To free my presence from that empty drone
And read or heard or felt a different tome
Timeless - yet insistent and alone.
“Come,” it shivered, piercing to the bone
“Come,” in sounds that suddenly had grown
To make me wonder how I must atone
For sins like seeds a prouder man had sown.
Straining still with eyes that spent their sight
The call beguiled me to an open door
Frameless hung, as if a fabric tore
Rent long and yawning open to the floor.
“Come,” it rang, more vibrant than before
As wispy fingers off some distant shore
Tugged gently at my soul, my unlocked core
Till I was carried drifting through the door.
At once my every fibre lost its might
And nerve and sinew stayed behind the shade
And I emerged more placid and restrained
As peace like snow descended in the glade
To which I’d come imperfect and unmade.
Then I knew the longer that I stayed
That time would stop, and I would merge and fade
Into eternity...I felt, afraid.
And in that fear new vision lost its sight
And I awakened wholly mine once more
The sweat of ages clung to every pore
Of this thin shell, this mortal husk I wore,
And wear still better than I did before
Until the day that legends, tales and lore
Fill up the book whose page this passage bore
And promises to kin and kith shall ring like truth,
once more. ——-— Joe Hevesy, June 1, 1997.
So, what does this prove? Well, obviously, it may not convince anyone else of God, or an afterlife, or any description that may be the same for everyone. But what it does prove is that somehow a single person on this earth believes wholeheartedly that he received a glimpse into Paradise. And I also think that if one person can be led to that state of belief, so can every other person, someday, somehow, even if only at the moment of truth, the moment of death.
But what about these hanging questions about why God allows suffering?
Well, once again, no single answer will suffice equally for all of us. I can only pass on to you my personal belief. God allows suffering for a couple of reasons at least. One, it proves definitively that this life, no matter how blessed it may be, is not without serious downsides. There is pain and, in many cases, there is pain that is so abundant, so excruciating that many of us at the end cry for release. And two, even in the midst of all this pain, god is with us.
There is a rabbi - I can’t recall his name now - who was in the Holocaust with his Jewish people. This question of God’s presence in all his people’s suffering kept nagging at him. “Where is this God who is all-caring?” “Why does He allow His own ‘chosen’ people to suffer such extremes?” “How can He justify all this pain?”
But this rabbi soldiered on. He stayed faithful to God, he showed a persevering faith to God visibly to all his people. He prayed every day and every night for an answer. And one day, he said, the answer was revealed to him. When he asked where God was, God whispered, “I am here. I am with you in all of this extreme terror. You are the ones who have been chosen to carry this burden for all mankind as my representatives. You are my Chosen people.”
Furthermore, as we Christians believe, God sent us His son, God-made-flesh, to suffer such terrible extremes with us, to show us that physical happyness-with-a-y is not the final answer. Our sufferings of one extreme or another is meant to coax us to let go of our grasp on earthly things. Without it, without suffering, we would want to stay here forever and not make it home to an ultimate reward.
But why do it at all? Why have Creation? Why not just stay in Paradise without the intervention of a physical world. Well, I will let you figure that one out through your own conversations with God. Hopefully, this message gave you some food for thought, maybe enough to spend a little bit of every Sunday in peaceful contemplation, reflection and prayer in the presence of God.
Now, let me leave you with yet another poem - don’t worry, not another one of mine. This poem is called Trees, not the one by Joyce Kilmer, but by Canadian Bliss Carman. I first learned it in grade 3 and it has reverberated with me ever since.
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