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A prayer of confession based on meditation on Psalm 40 and Genesis 37

Holy God,
your name we praise.
You have called us by name
and welcomed us into Jesus’ family;
You promise your presence
and your Holy Spirit to help in times of trouble;
You stand by us
even in times of failure and shame.

Teach us to praise you
even when life takes us through dark places:
when death takes those we love;
when loss shuts down the future we had planned;
when hurts and betrayals wound our spirits;
when trouble gangs up on us;
when guilt swamps our hearts.

Open our ears so we can hear
your Word that brings truth and mercy and love.
Open our eyes so we can see
your Holy Spirit who works in surprising ways.

Then, grant us grace and courage
to enter they mystery of your presence in our lives;
grant us grace and courage to abandon ourselves to you.

We wait.

We listen.

We watch.

Come, Lord Jesus,
become part of our very being.
Speak, Lord, for your servants listen.

 

Assurance of God’s Grace

Our hope is in Jesus’ victory over the powers of this world.

We and our world belong to him

and he will not rest until all things are made new.

Be assured that God’s grace

is at work in your life

overcoming everything that separates you from God,

carrying you deeper and deeper into God’s great love.

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It is with joy and with gladness that we come to you, Lord Jesus.
You meet us in our weakness with a love that never lets us go.
You welcome us into your family and make us your own beloved brothers and sisters.
Your promises pull us into your new creation
where all are welcome,
and all are cherished
and all belong.

Turn us around, O God,
whenever we walk down a path
that leads us away from you.
Turn us away from the fear
that we aren’t good enough
or rich enough
or important enough.

Turn us toward you —
toward your great love
your welcoming grace
your resurrection life.

And, in our turning,
show us the others whom you love—
those who are lonely
afraid
without hope.

Open our hearts
our hands
our words to them.

Move us beyond our fear to caring
beyond our uncertainty to confidence in you
beyond our concerns to a generosity
that witnesses to your expansive grace.

We pray in the name of Jesus
who welcomes all to your Table of Life.

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A reflection on Genesis 1.

The first chapter of the first book of the Bible was written for/by the people of Israel while they were in exile in Babylon. It was written as a protest against all those voices which were telling them that they were ‘nobodies’, ‘losers’ in life. To the Babylonians, they were just one more conquered nation. They felt humiliated, broken, and rejected. They were victims: pawns of Babylonian power, of forces that were beyond their control.

The first chapter of Genesis says, “You are confused about your identity. You have forgotten who you are and what defines you. What is decisive is not what the Babylonians think about your. What is decisive is not even what you think about yourself. What is decisive is what God thinks about you.” The story of creation proclaims that God’s primary relationship toward God’s creation is one of delight and graciousness.

Throughout the story, God looks at what God has made and pronounces it “good” — lovely, pleasing, beautiful. God gives God’s blessing three times: over living creatures, over human beings, and over the sabbath, the day of rest. The Creators delights in the creation. It brings God joy.

G. K. Chesterton imagined God’s childlike delight in what God had made. He said, “If you take a five year old child, throw her into the air, catch her, bounce her off your knee and then set her down on the floor, she will exclaim, ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ Every time you do it, she will shout with more enthusiasm, ‘Do it again!’ Even if you repeat the process a dozen time, the child will not tire of it. You will have to stop before she want you to.”

Chesterton believed that God maybe that way about creating daisies. He imagined God creating the first daisy and enjoying it so much that something deep inside God exclaimed, “Do it again!” When God made the second daisy, God was even more excited and shouted, “Do it again!” As God creates daisy after daisy, and after making the one hundred billionth daisy, God is filled with even more excitement than when God first began.

It is a wonderful image — but not just for daisies. It is a wonderful image for human beings as well. Can you imagine the joy and delight God had when God created you? Can you imagine the joy and delight God still has in you?

Most of us are far more aware of how often we have messed up. We live far more deeply out of the third chapter of Genesis that we do out of the first. You know the story: God places Adam and Even in a beautiful garden with everything they could want of need. The only rule was not to eat the fruit from one of the trees in the garden. Of course, the first thing they did was to betray the trust God had placed in them, eat the fruit and get expelled from the garden . . . and the rest of us have been paying the price ever since.

That is the story that many of us live our lives by. The truth is, we do betray the trust God places in us. We do reject the love that God lavishes upon us and treat it carelessly.

But, that is not the most important thing about us. The deeper truth is that God loves us and delights in us and will do whatever it takes to reconcile us to God, short of coercing us to love God.

There is a significant difference when God creates human beings from when God creates the rest of creation. With all the rest of creation, God speaks a word. The creation responds and becomes what God calls it to be. Then, God moves on to the next thing: day and night; sky and land; sun, moon and stars.

The pattern changes when it comes to making human beings. They are the only part of the creation to whom God speaks directly. God creates them and then starts talking to them. In entering into conversation with them, God invites them to enter into a personal relationship that is different from God’s relationship with the rest of creation.

“Speaking” signifies two things: God is intensely committed to human beings; human beings have the marvellous freedom to respond. God creates because God wants to share love. At the pinnacle of the process of creation, God creates a creature who can choose to love in return.

Each of us has the choice to respond to God’s love in our lives or not. We can listen to the voices that tell us that we are nobodies who will never measure up. Or, we can choose instead to listen to the voice of God who delights in us much more than we can imagine. We can listen to God who believes in us much more than we believe in ourselves. We can listen to God who entrusts us with the great and holy work of shining the light of Christ in our world.

That voice is so committed to us that the Word comes to us in Jesus of Nazareth. That voice will challenge our fears, our lies, the shallowness of our lives. That voice will bring us to that place where we experience the joy and the delight God has in us. Thanks be to God.

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A sermon based on Matthew 13: 1-9.

Some people think of the Bible as the place you go to get answers to your questions:

What happens when I die?

What does God want me to do?

What is the “Christian” response to poverty?

That is certainly the approach that was taken when I was in Sunday School. You heard the story; you asked the question; you learned the ‘lesson for living’.

Several years ago, I read something that changed the way I listen to the Bible. In Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World, Jacques Ellul proposes that “The Bible is not the answer book to our questions. You go to the Bible ho hear the questions that God is asking you.” Through the scriptures, God is talking to you. God is asking you questions about your life, about who you are, about your relationships.

More than that, in the scriptures we host Sunday by Sunday, God is speaking to us as a community of faith that is participating in God’s mission in this place and in this time. Our task is to hear the questions God is asking us and to answer as truthfully as we can. It is a different way of hearing the scriptures. It takes some practice.

Lectio divina is a way to listen for the questions that God is asking you in your life. You read the scripture passage several times slowly (preferably out loud). You listen for words, phrases  or images that emerge as you hear the passage. After meditating on those words, phrases or images, you pray them — talking with God about the thoughts they evoke in you. Then, you take some time to sit in God’s presence, becoming aware of God’s great love for you . . . receiving it into your life.

That is a lengthy introduction to today’s gospel story, which includes the “Parable of the Sower”. A sower went out to sow seeds and, as he sows, the seeds fall on 4 different kinds of soil: on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns and into good soil.

How many times have you heard this parable and told that its meaning was that you were to work hard to be good soil — the kind that produces a harvest of grain, some one hundred-fold, some sixty-fold, some thirty-fold? You hear the story. You ask, “What does God want me to do?” The answer is, “God wants you to be good soil.” Having heard your assignment for the week, you go out to implement it. Lesson learned.

Listening for God’s question to you in the passage takes you in a different direction. What words, images or phrases emerge for you?

When I was preparing this sermon, I didn’t get as far as the parable. The first words that stood out for me were the first words of the passage: “That same day”. I wondered, “What ‘same day’?” I went back to the chapter before this story and found out what else had happened on that day.

On that day, Jesus had been accused of working for the Devil, for Beelzebub. The Pharisees were conspiring against him. They were criticizing him and trying to figure out how to destroy him. They tried to trap him. They demanded that he prove who he was. On that day, in the midst of trouble and challenges and difficulties, Jesus tells a story about a sower who sows seeds with reckless abandon.

This sower doesn’t farm in the way you and I know farming: preparing the soil, planting carefully chosen seeds in straight rows, watching and waiting for the rains to come or to stop. This sower went out to sow and as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path and birds ate them up. Some seeds fell in rocky soil and couldn’t put down deep roots. Some seeds fell among thorns and got choked by them. But, some seeds fell in good soil and produced an abundant harvest.

Jesus’ parables help us pay attention to God’s presence in our lives. They help us hear the questions God is asking us. Jesus has been telling people that God reigns over this world. God is at work in this broken world, always and everywhere, setting things right. Nothing in all creation can ever come between us and that power love of God that is at work in this world.

Do you believe it? Do you trust those promises even when you cannot see much evidence of them? Do you trust that God is at work in your life even when God’s grace and love fall on the hard path you are walking at the moment? Do you trust that God’s love is the most decisive power at work in your rocky relationships? Do you trust God when troubles come so thick and thorny that they choke the life out of you? Do you trust that God is at work even when the world seems against you? Because, that is how God works.

The apostle Paul describes what that trust looks like: “We continue to shout our praise, even when we’re hemmed in with troubles . . . so, stay alert for whatever God will do next.” (Romans 5: 1-8)

I know a minister who put up signs around his church that said, “Expect God to act.” You would turn a corner and see the sign. You would walk up a flight a stairs and see the sign. He was trying to help the people of the congregation develop eyes to see the Sower sowing seeds of love and grace and hope in every place, in every circumstance.

A few weeks ago, another minister told me that he had done something similar. He put up signs that said, “Surely the Lord is in this place. Pay attention. Don’t miss it.”

Someone I was talking with last week says that, every time she meets with a group of people that she is mentoring, she asks them, “Where has God met you in the past two weeks?”

What answer would you give? Where has God met you in the past week?

Take a moment and think about the places in your life where the path you are walking is hard and difficult. Offer those circumstances and say, “Surely the Lord is present in this place.”

Take a moment and think of a place in your life where relationships are rocky, where it hard for love to take root and grow. Offer that relationship to God and say, “Surely the Lord is present here.”

Take a moment and think of a place in your life were trouble is troubling someone you care about. Offer that situation and that person to God and say, “Surely the Lord is present.”

Take a moment and think of a place in your life where God has blessed you. Give thanks, offer those blessings to God and say, “Surely the Lord is present in this place.”

Lastly, look to the week that is ahead of you. Offer it to God and pray, “Surely the Lord is present. Lord, help me to notice.”

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Day by day, you pour your love over us.
Day by day, you meet us with surprising grace.
Day by day, you speak the Word that
calls us deeper into your presence.

Yet, so often,
we wander through our days
oblivious to you
and to the ways you are working
in our midst.

In this time together,
we bring to you
the week that is past.

We bring to you
our tattered souls.

We bring to you
the deep longings
that haunt our spirits.

Take what we offer,
such as it is.
Move among us.
Open a space
where your reign of love
is welcomed with joy.

Silence the noise in our minds
that drowns out your Word.

Shelter us from the storms
that unsettle our lives.

Settle the clutter of worries
that crowd out your peace.

Then, awaken us to your Spirit’s work:
in our lives,
in our neighbours,
in our world.

Lead us to trust you more deeply,
even when we cannot see
the signs that you are with us.

We pray in the name of Jesus
who is your Word to us,
the Life we seek,
the Way we walk. Amen.

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A prayer for Trinity Sunday reflecting on Matthew 28: 16 -20

Out of our ordinary, everyday lives,
you have gathered us here, Holy God,
to this time of worship,
to this time of praise.

We join with angels and archangels
and all the company of the saints
to bless you,
to listen for your Word,
to immerse ourselves in your grace,
in your love.

Open our eyes,
our hearts,
our minds
to your presence with us.

Take the chaos of the world
that has found its way into our hearts —
speak your Word
and give order and form and new creation.

Take the failures and defeats,
the guilt and the shame
that bind our spirits —
speak your Word
and set us free.

Take our longings for your goodness
to shape our lives, this community,
the hurting world —
speak your Word
and infuse us with
your courage and
your hope and
your love.

Then, awaken us to your Holy Spirit
who is making all things new,
even us.

We ask in Jesus’ name
who sends us out to speak
love and mercy and grace
to those who are waiting
longing
hoping
for a sign
that they are not alone,
that you are a God of love,
that you are a Saviour who knows their name,
that the Holy Spirit is leading them home.

Amen.

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A sermon based on John 20: 19-23

The very first worship service of the Christian Church took place in the evening of the first Easter Sunday. The gospel of John says that the disciples were gathered “in the house”. All the earliest churches were house churches. The followers of Jesus would gather in someone’s home. They would tell the stories of Jesus; they would share the meal as Jesus had given it to them; they would pray together. That was the shape of their worship.

As John tells it, the first worship service wasn’t much of a service at all. There were no announcements about upcoming fundraisers and programmes. Even though it was Easter, there were no special anthems sung by the choir. The worship leader didn’t say, “Christ is risen!” and the people didn’t respond, “He is risen indeed!” There were no joyful shouts of “Alleluia!” In fact, the congregation seemed to be having trouble getting past the Prayer of Confession.

That morning, some of the women had brought news of having found the tomb empty. They told of messengers telling them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Mary said that she had actually seen Jesus and that he had talked with her. He had told her he was “ascending to the Father”, whatever that might mean. However, when the disciples gathered that evening, they locked the doors behind them.

They were afraid of the Judeans, the religious authorities. They were troubled. They were troubled not just by events in the world around them; they were troubled in their own hearts and minds. You can imagine that they were still reeling from the loss and the grief of Jesus’ death just a few days previous to this. They were confused about the reports from the women at Jesus’ tomb. I may be reading too much into it, but they were probably enveloped with a sense of failure and guilt and shame for having deserted Jesus. William Willimon called this, “the church of the sweaty palms and shaky knees and firmly bolted door. . .  All who were there had gotten an “F” in following Jesus. (You Call This A Church?)

The worship service seemed to have stalled there. They couldn’t get past the Prayer of Confession.

Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, Jesus shows up. He pronounces the “Assurance of Pardon”, the “Assurance of Grace”. He says, “Peace be with you.”  He could have said, “You guys really messed up.” He could have said, “Shame on you. I thought we were friends. Where were you when I needed you?” He didn’t. He said, “Peace be with you.”

He showed them the wounds in his side and hands. Then, he said it again, “Peace be with you.” The disciples were experiencing everything except peace and Jesus offers them this great gift of God’s mercy and grace.

He offers it not just in the first church service on the first Easter. He offers it to us every Sunday. We gather together and we bring with us the trouble that we have been carrying all week long. Most of the time we keep the trouble locked behind the closed doors of our hearts. We keep it hidden, but it is still there.

There’s trouble in the world — in the streets of London, England; in the refugee camps in the Sudan; in the sea between North Korea and Japan; in the Arctic where the ice cap is melting at accelerated rates.

There’s trouble in this neighbourhood where people are grieving the death of someone they love and parents are worried about the drug addictions of their children; and young people search for a reason to live.

There’s trouble in our own hearts and minds: the fears and worries; the regrets and sense of failure; the guilt and shame that haunt our souls.

We bring all that with us into worship. In the Prayer of Confession, we tell the truth about it to God.

Some churches no longer have a prayer of confession in their worship services. “That’s too negative,” they say. “We don’t want to make people feel bad. People come to church to feel good.”

The point of the Prayer of Confession is not to make people feel bad. The point of the Prayer of Confession is to make a space where we can tell the truth about the troubles that makes us afraid. It gives you a place where you can tell the truth about the things that you have done that cannot be made right. It gives you a place to speak the guilt and shame that is crippling your soul.

Together, we tell the truth and we offer all of it to our crucified and risen Lord. Then, we listen. We listen for his offer of forgiveness, he release from the burden, his “Peace be with you.”

The Prayer of Confession proclaims: You don’t have to keep carrying your guilt. You don’t have to keep letting fear drive your life. You don’t have to let shame hold you in its grip. Failure doesn’t need to turn to into a victim. Jesus went to hell and back to free you from all that. With grace more powerful than death, God takes you old life and gives you a new one. You can begin again, in a different place. You can move down a different path. You are no longer a victim. You are no longer “guilty”. You are forgiven and graced and redeemed and made new and set free.

I read once about a prison chaplain who had on his desk a framed photograph of a Christmas pageant. There were angels in white robes, holding candles and bringing “good news of great joy”. There were the shepherds kneeling and looking like they were frightened. Except, the characters in the photograph were not children as we are used to seeing in Christmas pageants. The shepherds and angels in this photo were rough looking men. They were convicts — convicted of murder and violent crimes; criminals serving time in jail. Yet, there they were, men who had been transformed by Christ, acting out the story of the birth of Jesus. When the chaplain was asked why he kept the photograph on his desk, he said, “It reminds me of the awesome power of God to change us, to set us free, to give us new life.” (William WillimonPeople Don’t Change — Do They?”)

We proclaim that truth every Sunday. Sometimes you will believe it. Sometimes, you will be glad and you will worship Jesus and you will find your way into the new life he offers. Sometimes, you will hear the gospel and you will doubt it. You will say with Thomas, “Unless I can touch Jesus’ wounds, I won’t believe that a new beginning is possible.”

What do you do when you are in that space? You keep showing up, Sunday by Sunday. You “practice resurrection”. You practice resurrection until you experience resurrection in your life. You do the slow work of making a space where God can work: you tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” as best you can. You confess the trouble, the mess, the fears and the doubts. Then, you wait for the risen Christ to show up and say, “Peace be with you.”

That’s why we share the peace of Christ every week. We practise with our voices and with our bodies the peace that Christ gives. We practise living into what Jesus says is God’s own truth about our lives. We practise trusting that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in our lives too, forgiving sin, making all things new. We practise until, one day, Jesus enters the locked doors of our spirits. Then, we know we are forgiven. We know we have received the underserved mercy and grace of God. You know God’s peace is setting is setting you free and you can begin again. Thanks be to God.

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