March 3, 2019 Transfiguration Sunday
Coming down from the mountain, into the valley, accepting our limitations
facing death, knowing we are beloved
Holy One, Great Spirit, Living Lord of Life,
Into the beauty of this day we add our praise.
In your glory, by your light
the vast mysteries of space swirl around us.
In the opening of your word, in the presence of your followers
the tender heart of human life takes on form.
As Jesus faced the ending of his life,
may we have courage to let go of the things we cling to
that keep us from facing our own limitations.
Awaken us to the wonder and splendour that surrounds us
and give us the confidence to know
that when we come down from the mountains of glory
we will find you in the valleys, healing and loving us
and calling us to help you, here, now
and everyday of our lives.
Be in my words, may they be true and faithful the gospel,
and may our understandings be a blessing to you. AMEN
Alistair was often in and out of the hospital until the day came when the doctors told him he was not going to get better. His family knew that this was his last visit to the hospital. He would not be coming home. In his heart, he accepted this, and made the most of his last weeks.
He frequently complained that nobody visited him, especially his dear wife. We knew that was not true, so we got a notebook for people to sign when they visited. At first, they would just write their names and the date. Then his visitors started writing special notes to him, and to others who would read the book. Poems, jokes, reports. The book became quite a treasure. His time in the hospital gave everyone the opportunity to bless and be blessed, to thank and be thanked for the goodness of life.
I was a chaplain in the hospital. After Alistair died, I was in the room he had occupied, visiting another patient. I was amazed: Has this room been painted over? The walls were beige, or pale green—a dull, meaningless colour. When Alistair had been in that room, I thought the walls were bright yellow. I know now that this was a reflection of his spirit, and the love in the room. Everything was transfigured by that love. Alistair was on the edge of life: and as it subsided, rather than quietly slipping into darkness, the spirit became brighter and brighter. I can’t say we SAW it with our eyes, but we could feel it in the atmosphere that transformed that hospital room into sacred space.
In our Gospel today we meet Jesus on the mountain with his disciples. Peter, James and John are rather dull fellows, not too bright. Jesus, on the other hand, is glistening: his whole being is lit up, with the spiritual force called “glory”.
Peter, James and John are nodding off, tired of hanging around whole Jesus prays, when they hear voices. Might have been the wind, or echoes of birds---but then they see two figures with their teacher.
They are talking together about death: Jesus’ death. How this was going to happen in Jerusalem. Did Jesus ask how much time he had left? Did he tell them he had many things left to do? That he wasn’t ready?
We don’t know. We do know he was in the company of his spiritual ancestors, who came to be with him as he faced his death. And in this presence, or maybe his acceptance of his destiny, he was “transfigured”. His face, like Moses’ face when he was with God, was filled with light.
We have lots of stories of people at the edge of life having “visits” (or visions/dreams) of their loved ones being with them. A favourite cousin, coming for tea, or a cat crawling on the bed. Ancestors visiting. I have often seen people reaching out their arms, as if to be lifted up as an infant does.
Sitting with someone as they die is exhausting. Who would ever believe that sitting and doing nothing but waiting could take the same energy as a marathon run? I can sympathize with Peter, and James and John, and their dull, sleepy selves in the midst of this drama. They do not want to face the death of their beloved teacher. They can’t stand the thought of living without him.
So, in their very human longing, they think of what they can do to prolong the visit of the ancestors, to extend this mysterious visit, to do what they could to prolong their friend’s life. They want to do something concrete, make a lasting difference, so that the moment will not pass without being enshrined.
Let’s make tabernacles, one for Moses, one for Elijah, one for Jesus.
Tabernacles, like our ancestors had in the desert, to hold the holy of holies.
Something to keep things just as they are.
Something to keep this moment on the mountain forever.
And then, in the midst of all this glory—all this light and sound—comes a cloud and a voice.
They are overshadowed.
Overshadowed—the way Mary, mother of Jesus, was overshadowed, by the Holy Spirit, when she said YES to the angel who announced that God had chosen her to be the mother of the Christ.
Overshadowed in a moment that led to life. The disciples are overshadowed by death, that leads to life, new life.
We have just finished the longest short month of the winter. February starts with Groundhog Day. Will he see his shadow? It is pretty tempting for Canadians to stay in the ground till the ice and snow are melted for good.
We usually think of shadows as being the hard places in our lives: Yea tho’ I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...But it was in the shadow (in the cloud): that Peter, James and John heard the voice of God: This is my beloved Son. Hear him.
And then: nothing. Only Jesus was there.
They have to come down from the mountain, into that valley.
“What a downer.”
or—Welcome back to reality.
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
While the three disciples have been up the mountain with their teacher, his other disciples have been bumbling along, trying to imitate their teacher, failing miserably.
A crowd of people are waiting, and the fear and anger and mob mentality is just ready to burst open into rage.
A man holds his son by the shoulders, waiting for the next seizure to start.
And just as the seizure begins, racking the young body with convulsions, the desperate father blames the disciples. “I begged your disciples to cast the demon out, but they couldn’t.”
Down from the mountain, into the valley.
Right into the brokenness. Right into the demon’s grasping, bruising grip.
Right into the father’s prayer for his son.
Right into our world.
IN a report by the RCMP in 2014, the statistic for reported murdered and missing indigenous women was ll81 women. Since then, we know that at least 300 cases were never counted. Everyday there are notifications of girls who have gone missing. Hundreds of girls and women have disappeared, without a trace, without any police follow-up.
Many of these girls are in the grip of addictions and most of them have been sexually assaulted. They all have their demons, and the demons of their ancestors and the violence of a world that did not recognize their worth as human beings.
Over the past several years, leaders of the Indigenous communities have asked the government to look into this. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission spent 3 years listening to the stories. They came up with 94 Calls to Action.
In so many ways, living in Canada is like being on the mountaintop.
We have what we need.
We have freedom, healthcare, Spirit, enough joy to share, enough of what we need to provide for others, and to care about others.
“This is my beloved child,” we hear on the mountain.
“This is my beloved child” we hear in the valley, as a woman hold a picture of her missing daughter, as a grandmother remembers her son in jail.
Indigenous leaders from around the world worked with the United Nations developed a shared call called the United Nations Rights of the Indigenous People, which is before our Canadian Senate for right now. (as we heard in Spirit Lines) We are asking you to send a letter to our senator to ask him to support this cry.
Because this is the wisdom we over hear from the cloud, the same words from the father of life, and the father of a sick child:
This is my beloved son.
Listen to him.
It must have been very humbling for the disciples to come down off the mountain and to realize what little power they had. Jesus did not console them either, He reminded them that he was about to die for his faith.
In cries of the world: from Parliament, from the Food Bank, from the hospital, from the circles of Aboriginal people, we hear the voice that cried out to Jesus: This is my beloved child. These are my beloved children.
Does the voice point us to Christ? to Jesus? or to each other and our world?
May God help us to answer with our lives.
February 24, 2019 Epiphany 7 Black History Month
It is hard for us to hear how radical the scriptures are, because we are used to hearing them. They have also been “domesticated”: used to justify all kinds of political agendas, like White Supremacy, or prosperity created on the backs of slaves, land rights, conversion therapy.
The message of the Hebrew stories and the gospel always advocates for the voiceless, the ones who are oppressed, or, as Jesus says, “The least of these my brothers and sisters.”
The ancients sang these liberation songs, these songs crying out for freedom, these songs of gratitude for redemption.
Priests chanted them, because music goes right to the heart.
We are still singing these songs as “hymns”. This month we have been singing “Spirituals” arising from the voices of slaves (and their ancestors), who used music as a code, as a medicine and as a gathering call to dream and plot for freedom.
In the 20th century, in bars and churches, the music of the blacks drew on African rhythms and their own rich history of singing and playing music, as Jazz, boogie woogie, blues and other new waves of musical expression.
In the 50’s and 60’s Soul Music and Motown music was wildly popular, shaping and influencing popular music, and giving society a new way of seeing the world. Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Greene—most of us who are over 50 know the words and music to these songs of our youth. Bob Marley helped build a religion from African roots called Rastafarianism. One of his famous songs, Redemption song, was written after he was in Halifax, at a trial with Rev. Dr. Oliver defending Black rights in Nova Scotia.
Contemporary singer, Drake, from Toronto is moving and shaking the music scene, but he is out of my league.
When we talk about “soul music” we are usually referring to the music of a particular time, and artists.
But what can we learn that speaks to us today, that helps us to break the chains and divisions that enable racism and ignorance and violence?
The soul has its own needs.
The soul doesn’t seek prosperity or fame.
The soul seeks meaning, and understanding.
Your soul will wither and die (or at least, shut down) if you don’t care for it.
By listening. The soul will always direct you to be expansive, to be generous.
The soul will counteract the ego’s demands to be “special”. The ego operates the small, anxious self, that seeks its own glory.
The soul seeks harmony, and teaches us how to turn hardship into something that can be transformed into a voice for dignity and respect for all people.
The soul music we grew up hearing demands respect, demands a fair hearing.
Oscar Peterson grew up in Montreal. He was the son of a railway porter. The CN rail hired blacks to work the trains, and they were often headquartered in Montreal. The largest, most vibrant United Church in Montreal is Union United, a “black church” which was started because these Railroad workers were not welcomed in the other Protestant churches in the city, in the late 19th and early part of the 20th century.
From this church Canada has been blessed with many fine leaders. Oscar Peterson, who is one of the most accomplished, awarded jazz pianists of the 20th century, grew up in Little Burgundy in Montreal. His church nurtured his musical talents, and he, in turn, nurtured other famous musicians, including Oliver Jones.
Our anthem today, speaks in the tradition of gospel music: proclaiming a new world, built with our commitment to the integrity and liberation of all humankind.
Hymn to Freedom
Sermon: Luke 6:27-38
Holy One, Maker and keeper of life,
Sing your song of freedom in our souls.
Speak your words of wisdom in our minds.
Work your ways of justice into our actions,
and help us to be true to your call.
Remind us that if we call you Saviour,
we must trust you to show us the way to salvation.
When the road is hard, and the resistance is vicious
give us the tools we need to serve
without glory, and to share without counting the cost.
Have mercy on us, Great Spirit,
so that we can be compassionate and strong
as we help to shape your new world of peace.
Be in my words, may they be true and faithful to the gospel
and may our understandings be a blessing to you. AMEN
My great grandfather had a plot of land, that he inherited from his grandfather. My great grandfather was a blacksmith, and by the time my grandfather was a boy, they were not farming the land. They rented it out for pasture.
My grandfather inherited the land, and as a good landlord, this included taking care of the fences.
This became a problem, when he found that his fences were being cut, and the neighbour’s cows were getting in and grazing, much to his tenant’s frustration and anger. Grandpa fixed the fences, then they would be cut.
When my grandfather died, I remember my grandmother’s calls to my father and uncle about these fences. The trouble was, the cows belonged to the Chief of Police for the small town. There wasn’t much hope of getting the law after him.
SO my uncle and father took a different approach. Instead of fixing the fences, they removed a fence, the one that fenced in the land from the road. The cows could freely graze, and just as freely cross the road, wander, and explore what freedom felt like.
The fences were not cut again.
Our gospel today continues Jesus’ sermon, as he feeds the multitudes of people with his words. The folks who have gathered around this miracle worker have come from all over the region and even as far as Syria, to be healed. They have come with their diseases and anguish, torments and spiritual demons, desperate to touch him so they can be healed.
Luke tells us that energy flowed from him, so that just being in his presence was enough to heal them. The power went out from Jesus and healed them all.
Then he shares the words that he hopes and prays will guide them and shape them for the rest of their lives, and for the rest of history. He starts with a blessing, then goes on to the bigger picture that shows the opposite side: the WOES.
This he follows with “rules for the Kingdom life” for this crowd, and for us:
How do you live with this blessing of healing? How do you live so you are not re-infected, spiritually as well as physically?
How must we live if we are going to hold onto this amazing power that we have?
Jesus is teaching us how to use our power. Not with violence, not even with litigation of courts. Not by putting up walls but by taking down fences.
Here’s his advice:
Love your enemy.
Turn the other cheek.
Walk the extra mile. (This is in Matthew’s version of the gospel).
Most of us have heard or given this advice over the course of our lives. It is enshrined in many of our institutions, although not very well practiced.
Jesus is teaching a way of using power that is so subversive it looks like weakness. This is perfectly in line with his agenda: Blessed are the gentle (meek) for they shall inherit the earth.
None of this advice really makes sense according to the way power is measured in our world. But here is the key: Jesus tells us that we will be measured with the same measure that we use.
If our measure is wealth, we will be judged by our wealth. It will give us power, and we will use our power according to what helps us get more, and our lives will be tormented by the fear of losing it.
Our society gives us other measures: education, talent, influence.
Other measures size up women by their beauty, or how many children they have.
Some cultures will judge a man by his wives.
Jesus gives us a measure to use, to stay on course: Mercy.
Have mercy. Therefore be merciful as your Father is also merciful.
And then he gives us a “gift that keeps on giving”, which is sometimes a prod, sometimes a blessing: Don’t judge. Judge not and you shall not be judged.
He is not saying, don’t pay any attention to whether this is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust.
He is teaching us the difference between judgement, which asks: Where do I stand?
and discernment: which asks: Where is God in all this?
We can stand on our own, or we can stand with God, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What does this look like?
Freedom from fear.
It looks like power that comes without violence.
Power that takes down fences that separate us from each other. Power that will not discriminate on the basis of skin colour or age or ability.
Power that is looks like mercy: kindness, gentleness, strength that heals and empowers.
This is the power that spills over like laughter, and joy, and promise.
This is the measure that shows us God’s life in our world, pointing us to freedom.
This is soul power, the kind that sings: YES! YES! YES!
Imagine: What a Wonderful World It Would BE.
Reverend Wendy MacLean Christ United LYN
Feb 17, 2016 Luke 6:17-27
Every single day of our lives you come looking for us.
You reach out
through the kindness of other people
through the beauty of nature
through the harsh weather, that humbles us
through the words of scripture
that remind us that we are part of a bigger picture,
and wider story.
Bless us today with wisdom to welcome you
where you meet us
in silence, in word
in the invitation to live fully and with joy
together, in this community of faith.
Open us to the healing that comes when we trust you.
Open us to the freedom that comes
when we risk the strange and unexpected direction
of your Holy Spirit, and the amazing grace
of your unending gift of Christ’s presence and comfort
in us, with us and for us.
Be in my words, may they be true and faithful to the gospel
and may our understandings be a blessing to you. AMEN
We already had a sermon today: Jesus’ sermon on the plain, also known as the sermon on the Mount. Jesus had a big crowd that day, not because they were hungry for good preaching, but as Luke tells us, the whole multitude were there for healing.
They were following him like a rock star, grasping and grabbing at his clothes, desperate to get a touch of him. And the whole multitude sought to touch him, for the power went out from him and healed them all. Luke 6:19
Jesus must have believed that preaching was also a way of healing people, and his words –the Beatitudes—are what remain after 2000 years, to heal the world. In some ways, the Beatitudes are the sequel to the 10 Commandments, not to replace them, but to supplement them. As Christians, the Beatitudes should be our “go-to” for life direction.
Except they are so subversive. They so somersaults with our normal ways of seeing and understanding life.
It is really hard to know where to place ourselves when we hear them.
Are we rich (WOE!) or Poor? Probably most of us would not describe ourselves as poor—but it is all relative. Are you poor if you have a roof over your head and food on the table? Are you poor if you can’t pay off your Mercedes Benz because you have such a high mortgage on your beach house and your condo in France? Are you rich because you wake up in a warm bed and your biggest worry is whether to have bran cereal or eggs for breakfast?
[Image result for Beatitudes the World Turns Upside Down]
Most of us would not choose the life he describes as blessed:
Blessed are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the rejected.
Rejoice in that day and leap for joy.
Jesus is really pointing us to a way of seeing our lives.
When we get to the end of our own resources, we turn to God and ask for help.
This is where we start to experience the blessing.
The people swarming Jesus came for healing: they knew poverty and illness, and fear and rejection. They weren’t afraid to need his help. Or too proud to risk everything to touch him.
In the movie, What About Bob, made around 1995, Bill Murray plays “Bob”, a distraught individual who is leaning very hard on his psychiatrist, played by Richard Dreyfus. The doctor is on a much-needed month-long vacation with his family at a cottage by a lake.
Bob tracks him down. Did I mention Bob has endless needs?
The doctor, knowing he can’t really solve Bob’s problems, has a stroke of genius. He takes out his prescription pad. “Here, every time a problem arises, take this out and follow it to the letter.”
“Not more drugs,” says Bob.
“Here is the prescription: Take a vacation from your problems.”
A vacation? Bob is elated. “You’ve given me a great gift!” He exclaims. “The gift of life.”
This is comedy, but there is wisdom in it, and in some way, this is what Jesus is doing. He is giving us a new way of seeing our problems. A vacation from a way of seeing the world, a way of renewing ourselves. A gift of life.
This sounds very idealistic. Not practical: but if you dare to trust God, you are ready when people start telling you are out of touch with reality. Jesus has this covered:
"Blessed are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and say that you are evil, all because of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven.”
This is not going to convince anyone unless they are ready to see things with eyes of faith.
So be ready.
Thomas Merton, the great spiritual teacher says: “You spend your whole life climbing the ladder of success and when you get to the top, you realize it is leaning against the wrong wall.”
Today is our Annual Meeting, the day we review the past year, look over our finances, and do a bit of dreaming together. It is tempting to see our position in the same terms we use to consider our personal finances and future goals. We want security.
But what if we hear with the words of the Beatitudes ringing in our ears and see the places where we are most needy, as the places where we are most blessed?
This is radical, and not practical, but it is FAITHFUL.
Blessed are you, poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
What a blessing: to be entrusted with the kingdom!
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Pat yourself on the back, we are amazing.
Except we all know, we are not rich, except in spirit.
YAY! Rejoice and leap for joy!
Before you shoot me, just take a moment, to remember how Jesus comes to us: Not in our riches but in our needs. Bring those to Christ.
We meet him in the broken bread, in the shared cup. In communion, remembering and being Christ’s body to each other.
Let this gift be our healing from fear, from worry, from grief.
Let it be our blessing, and rejoice. AMEN
Reverend Wendy MacLean Christ United Church LYN
February 10, 2019 Black History Month 1 Luke 5:1-11; Isaiah 6:1-6
Holy One, Creator, and Holy Friend,
Open us to the wonder of your world,
the millions of ways you come to us:
in nature, in love, in scripture
and in the challenges to do your will.
Open us to the unfolding of your mystery
as you bring us into the hard places
and into the deep waters
where we flounder in fear.
Give us the humility to turn to you
and to accept your invitation
to be saved from our limitations
and the thinking that distances us
from you and from others.
Be in my words, may they be true and faithful to the gospel.
And may our understandings be a blessing to you. AMEN
Last week I was in New York at a production of the musical, TITANIC. My son was in the chorus and his boyfriend was a lead. It was very simply staged, which made the experience into much more than the story of a big boat.
We know the story: the biggest ship, unsinkable, with all the luxury and glamour, as a symbol of the modern new world order. The Titanic: a miracle of technology and design. A floating wonder.
Except: it wasn’t.
The people were so proud: so proud they chose not to see.
So proud, they chose not to listen.
So proud, they chose not to let anything stop them.
But all the glamour, allthe luxury, all the technology could not save them from the sea.
The boat in our gospel story this morning was much more modest: a good-sized fishing boat, part of a fleet that belonged to a fairly successful business. Generation after generation of fishermen who knew the waters of the Sea of Gallilee. The fishermen know their work, they have been fishing since they were boys.
It had been a bad night, and as they clean their nets to get ready for the next night’s fishing, a stranger comes up to them and tells them to go out again. Why did they listen?
Can you think back to a time when you were discouraged and someone said, “Try again”? When you weren’t too proud to try again? And that second try changed your life?
So, Peter goes out again, and catches so many fish, his nets began to tear. They call their partners, in the other boats, and the boats almost sink from the weight of the fish.
This incredible success almost ruined them.
Like winning the lottery: millions of dollars don’t make life easier. Story after story tell us about people who lose everything, that winning leads them to the greatest loss in their life.
But this is where our gospel story turns: Peter falls on his knees and turns to Jesus.
Instead of being proud of his success, he is humbled.
When we have this kind of success, or windfall, our humble response would likely be: GRATITUDE. Thank you, for the fish. The money, the healing. The miracle.
But Peter’s humility brings him to his knees with a confession: “Leave me, I am a sinful man.”
In the story we read from the Old Testament, Isaiah had a similar response to being chosen: “I am a man of unclean lips.”
I am not good enough for this.
We don’t know anything about Peter’s sinfulness. It may be that he had been a wild man, or cheated his partner, or more likely, that he is just not up to the work. He knows his life, and is comfortable, and doesn’t really want to change.
I knew a woman who smoked a pipe, and lived in the woods, and drank like a fish. When she was drunk, she got religious. When she went to town, she liked to go from the bar over to the local Catholic church. The priest must have been a patient man, and she was a wonderful character. Madame Perreault decided she wanted to become a Catholic. But when the priest told her she had to confess her sins, she was very offended. “But I love my sins,” she said.
Maybe Peter was like her.
Maybe we all have a little of that in us.
Black History Month begins with our confession.
Not about how bad we are, because most of us are good people.
But we are sitting in a boat so full of fish it is tipping over, and our nets are tearing, and our success is going to swamp us if we don’t pay attention.
“I am not prejudiced,” we say, really believing it. “It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, black, white, brown, yellow. We are all the same underneath.”
We have come a long way from the days when blacks couldn’t get jobs except as Porters on the railroad or as domestic servants. Colour doesn’t matter.
But we are learning: that it does.
Being “colour blind” is not the way to create a just society.
Ignoring, or not paying attention to differences is not a way of honouring someone. It is a way of making their identity invisible.
(slide) Invisible Line [Image result for racism invisibility]
When Queen Elizabeth went to Saudi Arabia, she was made an honourary man, so she could meet with the king.
Was this a compliment? Ignoring her gender? We are all the same in the eyes of God?
Because we are good people, and live in a good country, and have a good church, our prejudices and privileges are invisible to us. We just don’t notice, until someone ignores us because we are old, and we see prejudice.
We just don’t notice, until we buy something we like with our credit card, even though we don’t need it. And we realize: we have this privilege.
It is invisible to us, but it is not invisible to everyone. The differences are perpetuating a system of injustice, that limits and violates the goodness of God.
If you are feeling angry, or resistant to what I am saying, pay attention. We should be upset. This is rocking our boats, stirring us up: and we can choose to shut down, or we can fall on our knees.
When Jesus called Peter, James and John to join him, they had to leave their nets and boats and everything they knew and understood to follow him.
Jesus asks nothing less of us.
The church has always been portrayed as a boat.
Are we on the Titanic, or in a boat full of fish, with Jesus calling our names?