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.
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 terms; it's perhaps understandable in these cases that the disciples wouldn't have picked up on Jesus' meaning without help. For example, Jesus predicted his death and resurrection early in the gospel of John using a metaphor:
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. 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.
God of new life,
we come with our praises and prayers.
We come rejoicing in the mystery of the Risen Christ,
present among us always;
blessing us with life-giving good news,
We come led and nurtured by your Holy Spirit.
Thank you for all your blessings,
For our family, friends and neighbours.
Thank you for all the beauty
In the skies, the lakes and the mountains.
Thank you for all the excitement of celebration,
Birthdays, weddings and christenings.
Thank you for all the variety of animals, birds and insects.
Thank you for all the enrichment of music, art and literature.
Thank you for the amazing jigsaw of life!
What a beautiful picture is made when we place all these pieces together!
Thank you for the promise of eternity,
For the sacrifices you made so that we can be free,
Free to make our lives into a glorious patchwork of thanksgiving
That carries us onwards to the promises of new heavenly pieces to add to all that we already hold.
We Thank you Lord....
Shall we now pray the words he taught us: Our Father…
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 also forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the Kingdom the power and the glory forever and ever” Amen
Glorious God, we know that your capacity to love is infinitely greater than our own ability. Indeed, you call us to love one another in truth and in action. We yearn to be active disciples, so that our hearts truly abide with you. Use these gifts to increase our ability to be your followers. In the name of the One who laid down his life for us, Jesus Christ, we pray.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad,because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We Listen to God’s Word & Pray for Understanding
As your word is read, may it settle upon us
and nestle deep within us.
May it become more life-giving than the air we breathe,
more solid than the earth beneath our feet,
more powerful than the gravity that draws your creation together.
It is a blessing to be here with you today.
My sermon topic is “Giving and Receiving Blessings.”
There are so many facets to what we consider to be blessings – like joy, healing, grace, and gratitude.
In the movie “White Christmas” Bing Crosby sings “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,I count my blessings instead of sheep.”
We know on some level that we have many blessings, and that when we become aware of them, or count them, the natural response is to feel gratitude, a feeling that dispels our worries. But are our blessings the good countable “things” in our lives – things we are grateful for? That may be one aspect of blessings, but there is more to it.
In David Spangler’s book “Blessing: The Art and the Practice,” he describes blessing as an invocation of the presence and power of the sacred. He encourages all of us, to experience the rewards of being a conduit for God’s blessings. We can bless through a kind word, a prayer, a ritual, a gesture, an embrace, or a gift – but the blessing is the sacred space that is experienced rather than the outward visible sign that helped convey the blessing.
A blessing is more than something you like or a kindness. A blessing is that which lifts us toward experiencing our spiritual nature. It brings Spirit into the picture. It gets us in touch with the essence qualities of God – like wholeness and perfection.
The phrase “circular blessing” comes to mind. It can become clear that every blessing has the potential to bless both the giver and receiver of any blessing.
We pray that our blessings have a positive effect on those we are blessing. Yet we, too, are reaping great benefit from being a blesser!
On a psychological level, when we bless, we are thinking good thoughts. Good thoughts feel good. We open our minds to something better or greater, which gives us hope for a happier future. Positive thoughts naturally have a positive impact on our mind and our body.
On a spiritual level, we are opening to God’s Good flowing through us outward into the world. We become joined with the brotherhood of God’s people. Blessings are a way of re-membering God’s family.
Many of us have had the joy of sharing blessings through prayers of the people. We’ve prayed for one another, especially those on our weekly prayer list, asking for God’s healing blessings for our extended church family. When we pray for another’s health and well-being, there is a range of experiences that we can have. My focus today is on the connection we can feel when we are extending blessings from a place of spiritual connection.
An image that comes to mind is a hose that has the potential to spray water onto a garden. My word of blessing is like turning the tap that allows the water to flow through the hose. The hose gets to feel the water flowing through it while the garden receives the benefit of the sprayed water. In the same way, any blessing I invoke flows through me, touching and cleansing me in the process. The water and the blessing are not mine. I am just the channel through which it flows when I am willing to turn the tap. That is the experience of “circular blessing.”
On the other hand, if I speak the words of a blessing while feeling separate and vulnerable, it is as if the hose is not attached to the water source. Nothing flows through it. As St. Paul writes in I Corinthians 13, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
The power of the blessing is in staying connected to our Source, to our Creator, and allowing the Divine Presence to flow through my heart, mind, and soul.
The power of “circular blessing” is in remembering to connect to the Father’s Love that heals and transforms. That’s the Good News. I am not responsible for creating the blessing. My job is to invite God’s blessing and allow it to do its work.
The one who blesses from a state of communion with God is the voice for God in that moment. We are the hands and feet of God in the world, and we are invited to be the conduit for God’s blessings in any environment or circumstance.
What do we choose moment by moment? Do we extend blessings, or judge and complain? Do we just say “God bless you” when someone sneezes?
When I sneeze and you say “God bless you” where is your focus of attention? Are you present with me? affirming my health? wondering if I have a contagious cold or just an allergy? or maybe you just said it out of reflex and your mind was a million miles away, not really present with me or divinity.
Where your attention is when you say “God bless you” does make a difference. Maybe the next time you say it, there will be an extra dose of God’s Presence in your mind.
Most of us don’t speak blessings on a regular basis, but we can begin to exercise our blessing muscles.
We can choose to feel gratitude and give praise for the blessings in our lives while remembering the Source of our Good.
We can speak a blessing before meals, giving thanks for the abundance and variety of our nourishment.
We can enjoy the blessing of our freedom.
We can notice the miracles that flow from being a blesser instead of a complainer.
We can bless those who seem sad, confused, or lost from a place of peace in our own lives.
We can bless through mercy, kindness, compassion, beauty, and humor.
A deep spiritual blessing, in full openness to God’s Unconditional Love, can crack the heart wide open. Instead of my individual desire to wish another well, there is no “other”, just another part of myself seen through God’s eyes. Divine Wholeness is a healing balm that can be experienced by giving blessings.
In the Beatitudes (today’s Gospel reading of Matthew 5:3-12) Jesus speaks of people normally thought to be in disfavor. He pronounces them blessed because He tells us that God’s Healing Presence is available to all His Children. He teaches us that we, even in our brokenness, are due to receive an abundant life in God’s kingdom, regardless of our status or circumstances.
Blessing is a holy act that any Child of God can do, not just Jesus. It is our spiritual duty to remember that. We can and should bless by offering God’s blessing silently or aloud. Silent blessings are powerful, too, shining the Love of God into the world.
All things made by God are His children. Bless them all. Feel the healing power of “circular blessing.” There is a spiritual principle that what you give comes back to you. Give blessings, and you will receive blessings.
Practice makes perfect. Bless often. Hold God’s Hand, and ask for His Help to Bless with His Eternal Unconditional Love. With God’s help we are His Blessing in the world.
My message today is to bring awareness to the benefit of blessing, both giving and receiving.
We come to church to be reminded of our spiritual nature. Be willing to allow your spiritual nature to expand and express through the practice of blessing.
My prayer for each of you is that your heart fully opens to receive Spirit’s richest blessings of unconditional love and divine communion.