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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Corunna United Church on February 14, 2016.

 Scripture: Luke 4: 1-13

There is an ancient legend about John, Jesus’ disciple and the author of the gospel of John: When John was a very, very old man, he was carried into a gathering of the church for his final sermon. He said, “Little children, love one another.” Then, he said it again, “Little children, love one another.” He said it again . . . and again . . . and again. In fact, it was all he said. “Little children, love one another.”

Some people thought it was a shame that the silliness of a senile old man should be put on display in such a manner. But others understood: John’s sermon summed up a long life’s reflection on the core meaning of the gospel.

Jewish rabbis would sometimes test their students by asking them to summarize the Torah, the Law, in the time that they could stand on one foot. When religious scholars asked Jesus, “Which command in the Law is the most important of all?”, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbour as you love yourself.”

Churches can spend a lot of time developing mission statements but we already have a mission. Jesus gives it to us. “Love God with everything you’ve got and everything you are. Love God with the fullness of your life and, with the fullness of your life, love your neighbour as yourself.”

What is your mission? Why are you here? You’re here learning how to let God’s great love for you fill your whole life. You are here to get better and better at letting God’s great love for you fill your life to overflowing until it flows out into the world and into your neighbourhoods. That’s the mission.

If you push people on that — if you say to them, “Tell me what that love looks like”, many people will say, “It looks like the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That’s good advice for living in Jesus’s Way. It is the gold standard for our relationships with each other. Jesus gave it to us early in Matthew’s gospel, in the Sermon on the Mount. He gave it along with the Beatitudes and other words of wisdom for his Way.

Later in his journey to Jerusalem, though, as he was on his way to the cross, Jesus bumped it up a notch. In fact, he bumped it up several notches. He pushed beyond the gold standard, the Golden Rule, and he gave us his platinum rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” became “A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13: 34) It is not enough just to love others as you yourself want to be loved, as challenging as that is. Jesus commands you to love one another as he has loved you. Jesus himself becomes the standard for our love.

Do you know how Jesus loves you? Jesus loves you with a glorious staggering love. Jesus loves you so deeply, so fully, that nothing in all creation could ever separate you from that great love. Nothing. Not the terrible suffering that life can throw at you. Not the wounds that scar you soul. Not the humiliating failures that haunt your sense of worth. Not the broken relationships that cripple your spirit. Nothing. Nothing in all creation could every come between you and the great love Jesus has for you. (Romans 8: 31-38)

Jesus’ love is a love that searches for you when you are lost and does not give up until he finds you. Jesus loves you with a love so fierce and strong that he would rather die than be without you. He will go to hell and back for you. Jesus loves you as you are and not as you should be because none of us is ever going to be as we should be. The essence of the Christian life is a love affair, allowing yourself to be the recipient of God’s great love.

Brennan Manning was a Catholic priest who said, “After thousands of hours spent in prayer and meditation, in silence and in solitude, I am now utterly convinced that on judgement day, the Lord Jesus will ask each of us one question and only one question: Did you believe that I loved you? that I desired you? that I longed to hear the sound of your voice?”

Do you believe that? do you trust it? Are you learning to trust it more and more deeply? more and more fully? with all that you are and all that you have?

None of us gets very far in this journey with Jesus before our trust in that love gets tested. The story of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness comes right after the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus begins his public ministry by showing up at the River Jordan asking to be baptized by his cousin John. When Jesus is baptized, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends upon him live a dove. A voice comes from heaven that says, “You are my Son, the Beloved — you are chosen and marked by my love, the pride of my life.”

That same Spirit, having conveyed God’s blessing and love to Jesus, then led him into the wilderness. For forty days and forty nights, that love was tested:

“You think you are loved by God? Let God prove it to you. You’re hungry — turn these stones into bread.”

“You think you’re loved by God? Use God’s love for you to get what you want, to make your dreams come true.”

“You think you’re loved by God? Make God prove it. Make God rescue you. Make God keep you safe from getting hurt.”

What is it that makes you doubt that God loves you?

Is it when you hear those old voices in your heart that tell you that you’re not good enough? that you have to earn God’s good opinion of you?

Is it when life throws you a curve ball and all your carefully made plans and hopes and dreams lie scattered at your feed and your prayers seems to rise no further than the ceiling?

Is it when you have been deeply wounded by someone you trusted and you’re not certain about anything anymore, much less God’s great love for you?

To be a follower of Jesus is to know that God loves you with fierce, unconditional, steadfast and faithful love. To be a follower of Jesus is to have your trust in that love tested over and over again. Journeying with Jesus into the heart of God’s love means that there will be times of wilderness testing. You will leave behind the safe and comfortable places. You will end up in a place where you are not in control. When that happens, the task before you is learning to trust more deeply in God’s great love for you. It is learning to trust more deeply that God is taking even your doubts and fears and feeble attempts to love others as Jesus has loved you and is gathering all of that into God’s own all-encompassing, redeeming, life-giving, creative love.

I don’t need to tell you that you folk are every blessed to have Blair as your minister. Last week I asked him, “What has been the theme of your ministry?” He replied, “God loves us passionately.” He tells you that over and over and over again. He tells you that over and over again because it is easy to forget; it is easy to doubt when so many voices in our culture tell you that you are on your own; that you have to hustle to be considered a success; that you have to earn God’s approval.

God loves you passionately. Nothing you could do could make God love you less. There is nothing you have to do to make God love you more.

God loves you passionately. Blair tells you that over and over again so that that deep truth lives deep within you. Trust God will all you have, with all your are, for that love is holding you fast and will never let you go.

This is a great mystery.

This is great grace.

Thanks be to God.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Forest United Church, Ontario on April 30, 2017

Scripture:  Luke 24: 13 -35

Everybody lives their life by some script. Every community is shaped by a script, a story. That story tells the community what is important. It tells the people where they can find hope and purpose. It shapes the way its people act in the world.

The Church is a community that is gathered around the stories of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Actually, the Church tells four stories of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. They are all one story but each gospel tells it from its own perspective.

Mark’s gospel says that the resurrection happens as three women are going to a tomb, expecting to anoint a dead body. They are surprised by an angel who tells them that Jesus has been raised. The women flee from the tomb “and they said nothing to anyone for . .  .” That’s how Mark tells the story. When you are amazed, perplexed, and terrified, look around for signs that the God who raises the dead is at work.

Matthew says that Easter is a great earthquake. The crucified and risen Jesus invades your life in places that are dead or shut down. He breaks them open and destroys death’s hold. You are in a new world, a new creation filled with God’s grace. There is a risen Saviour on the loose. The Church has to stay on the move if it is going to catch up with him.

John says that Easter happens when the church is huddled in fear, trying to protect itself. The crucified, risen Jesus shows up and breathes new life into frightened disciples and gives them the power to offer a new beginning to others.

Luke says that Easter is an ordinary church service that gets taken over by a stranger and everything changes. The service begins the way our worship services begin: with ordinary people dealing with ordinary lives. They bring with them the tangled webs of their lives — all sorts of emotions and experiences.

There are the women who are struggling to deal with the death of someone they love. They do what they know how to do: they go to the tomb with spices to anoint a dead body. They are met by two messengers who tell them that Jesus has been raised. They, in turn, tell the men in their group. The men don’t believe them, although a couple of the men do go to the tomb to check things out for themselves.

There are two disciples who do not know what to make of all this. They start heading back to their ordinary lives in a small town called Emmaus. On the way, they talk through their broken dreams and shattered hopes together.

All of these people are a lot like us when we gather for worship. None of us has this ‘faith’ thing all figured out. When we show up here, some of us are perplexed; some are disbelieving and unconvinced; some of us are amazed at the news that Jesus has been raised from the dead and we want to talk with others about it.

All of us have lives that are not perfect. Indeed, many of us have lives that are a mess— a mixture of broken relationships, shattered dreams, and glimpses of glory and beauty and mystery. We bring all of that with us into worship.

In Luke’s church, you don’t check the mess at the door. You don’t have to pretend that you are doing better than you are. You bring it all with you. Somewhere along the Way, Jesus join us in the midst of the mess.

The chances are that we will not recognize that he is with us, at least not at first. The two disciples certainly did not. They thought he was just a stranger, walking the same road they were. Then, he invites them to tell the truth about their lives. In telling him the truth, they tell him about Jesus. Listen to their prayer of confession:

They say, “When Jesus was around, God was near.”

They say, “Our own leaders let us down. They handed him over to be killed.”

They say, “Now there are stories that he is alive. We are heartbroken. We are confused. We are wondering.”

Jesus takes their stories — all the broken pieces, the hurts, the losses, the hopes, the questions and assures them that God’s mercy and grace is already at work in their lives. He sets those pieces into God’s story, the story of God healing this broken world with self-giving love and amazing grace. As he does that, the disciples find their place in that great story.

That’s what we do every Sunday. We take this book of ancient stories. We set ourselves under them. We wrestle with them. We listen for a word from God in them. For a few minutes every Sunday we live in the strange new world that the Bible tells. We practice living in the country of God’s grace.

As you set yourself under these stories often enough, the stories begin to shape how you live in the world of your ordinary, every-day life. For instance, you are faced with an impossible situation and everybody else says, “We are a dead end. There is nothing to be done but to give up.” You begin to look for signs that God is at work with resurrecting power. You begin to look for the risen Christ to make a way where there is no way.

Or, you meet a stranger and the world says to you, “You better be on your guard. Perhaps she is dangerous. Perhaps he will hurt you.” However, you enter into relationship with him or her and you wonder, “Is she an angel in disguise? Is he a messenger from God with surprising news that will bless my life in unexpected ways?”

You may be struggling to find your way forward and you go for a walk by the lake. When you see the water you remember, “I am a baptized person. I have been claimed as a beloved child of the One who went to hell and back so that I may know that nothing in life or death, in sickness or in health, nothing in all creation can ever come between me and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus my Lord.”

These stories tell us where to find hope. They tell us where to find courage. They tell us where to find strength for the day. One of the great blessings of being part of the Church is helping people wrestle with these stories. It is a gift to help them get these stories into their hearts and minds, so that they see the world from inside the Story of God’s action in the world.

You need the stories we tell here so that you can face all that life will bring you. When the bully in the workplace tries to intimidate you, you will face the situation differently when you know the story of David and Goliath; when you know that David found courage to face Goliath because trusted that God was with him. God had been preparing him for this moment and had given him the gifts and skills he needed through long, lonely nights of watching sheep and protecting them from lions. God is with you too, giving you what you need to face the giants that threaten you.

Or, when you are asked to do something that compromises what you know to be good and true and right, you face the situation differently when you have wrestled with the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. You remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, figuring out how to live faithfully even while they worked in the Babylonian civil service. Have that story in your heart and you find the courage to live authentically, faithfully even in very ambiguous situations.

You need to know the twenty-third Psalm deep in your bones so that when life takes you through deep valleys, you cling to the promise, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I have everything I need.” You hold on knowing that the Good Shepherd will leave 99 sheep in the sheepfold in order to go looking for the one that is lost and won’t give up until the lost is found. That story becomes the rock where you find refuge and hope and a reason to keep living.

Everybody lives their life by some script. Every community is shaped by some story. Our story is the story of a living God who loves us with death-defying love. Our story is the story of a crucified and risen Saviour who takes and blesses and gives the broken pieces of our lives so that we become instruments of God’s grace and love and hope and peace. Our story is the story of the Holy Spirit who adopts us into a community of faith and then sends us into the world to tell the story of God’s healing, reconciling, redeeming work in ordinary lives.

Easter is formed among the people who worship this God. The risen Christ shows up and gives you hope and purpose and courage. Praise be to the One who meets us on the Way and leads us to new and joy.

The Way

Bread of Life,
the Resurrection,
the Way,
the Truth:
with these names we praise you.

In such naming and praising
we set ourselves under your Truth.
In such naming and praising,
we set ourselves on your Way.
Then, we find that you are indeed
the Resurrection who leads us to new life.
You renew our strength
You send us out
as ambassadors of your grace and love.

For all your blessings,
so extravagantly given,
we praise your holy name.

Lord, our God,
you have made us
to live in communion with you.
You have promised that you
will be our strength,
our refuge,
a very present help in times of trouble.
You have promised that in company with Jesus
we shall find peace that passes understanding,
abundant life,
hope for the journey.

You know the questions
that fill our fears,
the worries
that cloud our sense of your presence with us.

We turn to you with them.
We ask you to take them.
Bless them with your powerful, transforming grace.
Break their grip on our hearts and minds.
Then give us your life and truth
so we may move into this week
full of courage
full of you.   Amen.

Thirsty Souls

“Thirsty Souls”

A sermon based on Exodus 17: 1-7

In a number of different contexts, I have been encouraging people to practice an ancient Christian tradition: lectio divina, or ‘holy reading’.

You take a passage of scripture and work through four steps with it. Here’s how I have described the steps:

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a slow, contemplative praying of the scriptures. It helps us to listen deeply for God in the scriptures and engages us in conversation with the living God.

LectioRead the scripture passage  (or a portion of it, if it is long) slowly, preferably out loud. Do this several times (at least three times).  Pay attention to the words or phrases or images that speak to you.  Some unexpected word or phrase may emerge as you repeatedly read the passage.

MeditatioMeditate on the word or phrase that has drawn your attention as you read through the passage in the lectio stage. What thoughts, hopes, memories, desires, concerns, ideas come to mind?

OratioPray the word(s) or phrase(s) that you have been meditating on. Enter into an unhurried, loving conversation with God.  Interact with God as you would with one whom you know loves and accepts you. Offer to God the experiences that emerged in your meditation. Let the words or phrases from the scripture text speak to those experiences, with God’s healing grace.

ContemplatioRest in God’s presence, allowing yourself to receive God’s transforming love.

For many people, this is a different way of engaging the scriptures. As with any new skill or habit, people can feel uncomfortable with it. They tend to say, “I don’t get it”, or “I am not getting anything out of it”. When someone is learning to play the piano, it takes some time before they actually ‘hear the music’. When someone is first training to run in a long distance race, it takes some time before they find the rhythm. You learn to dance, to paint, to play baseball by making your way through a time period when you feel awkward.

Generally, we have been used to reading a passage of scripture in order to understand it. You ask, “What does this tell me about God or about Jesus or about how I should live the Christian life?” Some people get more serious about studying the Bible and seek to understand the historical background of a passage. What was the culture like when the story was happening? What did the words mean originally?

Other people, using the scriptures in their daily devotions, may approach a passage asking, “What does this tell me about prayer? about how I should treat my neighbour?” They stand back from the passage and figure out how it applies to their lives.

Many people have found these approaches helpful. However, a lot of people could not see how the Bible applied to their lives. There were some passages they just could not understand, no matter how much background information they got. Eventually, they gave up reading the Bible altogether.

Lectio divina does not invite you to understand the Bible. It invites you to stand under it. It says, “Do not step back from the scripture; step into it.” In lectio divina, you do not go to the scriptures to find out about God. You got to the scripture to encounter the living God, who is waiting to meet you there.

I encourage people to develop this practice because I am convinced that people do not first of all need to know more about God. They need first and foremost to know God. Years ago, I was at a workshop where the instructor asked someone, “Do you know the Shepherd’s Psalm?” The participant answered, “Yes, and I know the Shepherd too.”

We have thirsty souls: souls that are parched for the living God. Do you know what a thirsty soul feels like? When our throats are thirsty, they are dry and scratchy. When a soul is thirsty, it can feel like that deep yearning that hovers in the backgrIMG_3676ound of a busy life: a yearning that, when you stop long enough to attend to it asks, “Is this all there is?”

A thirsty soul can feel like a deep loneliness that does not go away, even when you have lots of family and friends.

In today’s Bible story, thirsty souls showed up in the midst of a crisis about having no water in a desert. The people were afraid and angry and feeling powerless. They turned on Moses because they needed someone to blame.

They turned to Moses, because that’s what we often do with our thirsty souls. We look for someone or something to fill the emptiness or to stop the loneliness. We think that it is someone or something that we are yearning for.

One of the elemental lessons to learn in your spiritual journey is that your deepest yearning, your deepest thirst is for the living God.

Somehow Moses knew that. When the people started complaining to him, he knew that he could not give them what they wanted. he know that only God could do that. So, he turned to god. He prayed a direct, honest prayer. He does not begin with polite or vaguely religious words. He launches into prayer: “What can I do with these people? Any minute now, they are going to kill me!” In other words, “This is your problem, God! Do something!”

Sometimes our prayers don’t go very deep because we are too polite with God. We only bring the surface stuff into our conversation with God — the places where we are still in control; the places where we still retain the illusion that we are in control. It is harder to trust God with the ugly parts of our life, with the broken places in our souls.

Even after God provides water for the people, Moses call the location “the place of quarrelling; the place of complaint”. This, too, is part of the journey. There will be places and times when our thirsty souls cry out, quarrelling with others, complaining about what we do not have. This story signals that even our quarrelling and complaining are invitations to encounter God. Even our brokenness and yearning and emptiness are invitations to place our whole lives in God’s hands.

Interestingly, when God answered Moses’ prayer, God provided water but, more importantly, God provides God’s own presence: “Go to the rock that you will strike with a rock and water will come out AND I will be standing there in front of you.”

God is not just ‘there’ to meet your needs and to answer your prayers. God is standing there in front of you, longing to enter into relationship with you; yearning to be in communion with you. In every part of your life, God is reaching out to be with you and to share God’s great love and grace and transforming power with you.

Do you believe that?

Brennan Manning was an author and public speaker who, often, would invite people to trust that deep love of God and to enter into it. In one talk, he says, “In the forty-eight years since I was first ambushed by Jesus in a little chapel in the Allegheny Mountains in western Pennsylvania, and then, in the literally thousands of hours of prayer and meditation, silence and solitude over those years, I am now utterly convinced that on judgement day, the Lord Jesus is going to ask us one and only one question: “Did you believe that I loved you, that I desired you; that I waited for you day after day; that is desired to hear your voice?”  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQi_IDV2bgM)

Do you believe that? That is what your soul is thirsty for. Jesus offers you himself — living water to quench your thirst. That is the invitation the lectio divina offers: an invitation into the heart of God’s love and God’s great longing for you.

Blessed be your name, God of Life:
you have made this world and placed us in it.
We live and love and work and play in your good creation.

Blessed by your name, God of Hope:
when we destroy your good creation,
you move to rescue and redeem it,
surprising us with newness we did not expect.

Blessed be your name, God of Love:
you invite us into the life of your Son, Jesus,
to dance to the rhythms of your grace.

Wake us up to your presence, O God,
alive
active
powerfully creative
giving life that is stronger than death.

Give us eyes to see your reconciling work
and ears to hear your invitation to join in it
and hearts that turn away from the ways that do not give life.

Nudge us toward your holy mystery
and give us courage to trust your risky Way.

We ask these things in the name of Jesus
your Word made flesh
dwelling among us full of grace and truth;
and through the power of your Holy Spirit,
blowing where it will
with the energies of the age to come. Amen.

In our tradition, when we baptize someone, the congregation promises to nurture that person in the Christian faith. However, when the person being baptized is an infant or small child, and the parents seldom bring that child to worship after the baptism Sunday, congregations can struggle with how to fulfill that promise.

I read the other day (I hadn’t marked down the source) about an African-American congregation that held a family-night event with the focus on “Stories In and Through Hard Times”. Participants were invited to recall proverbs, sayings, or songs that hey had heard while they were growing up. They were then to share a story of how that wisdom had helped them through hard times.

Some of the proverbs shared were, “God didn’t bring us this far to leave us,” and “Hold on to God’s unchanging hand”, and “Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy comes in the

The children and youth were then invited to ask questions of the adults and to add their own stories.

I am thinking that this might be a way for congregations to live into the promise they made at baptism. In the “Children’s Time” spot in worship (or before or after a psalm that prays to God about trouble), the people in the congregation could be invited to share a proverb or phrase from a favourite hymn that has helped them hold on in difficult times. If they were comfortable doing so, they could tell the story of the experience in which that proverb or hymn was helpful. If the musician(s) were comfortable with playing hymns without much notice, the congregation could also sing the hymn. The children could be invited to ask questions.

And then, what about creating a “wall of hope” on which was written the proverbs or phrase from the hymns that people shared. The wall of hope would grow over time as the proverbs/phrases were shared.

 

 

A prayer based on Matthew 4: 12 -23

Call to Confession

We come into God’s presence with nothing but ourselves
and our attempts to follow Jesus in imperfect ways.
That is enough, because it is by God’s grace that we are saved, not by our own works.
God takes what we offer
and fills our emptiness with his redeeming power.
Let us open our lives to God’s good and holy work.

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

God of the Truth that sets us free,
God of hope that lifts us up,
God of the Life that sends us out,
you have set us in the midst of this community
to be a sign of your love
to witness to your truth
to offer a foretaste of your new creation.

We are unsure what it would take
to offer that love to the people we do not know,
to speak your truth in the midst of lies and hate,
to be the radical community of faith you need us to be.

You know us
through and through.
Yet, still, you choose us
to be ambassadors of Jesus’ Way
here and now
among the people
we meet day by day.

So, we ask you to send your Spirit among us;
clear our minds to hear your Word to us;
enlarge our vision to see where you
are already present and working;
overcome our fears
so that we do and say
what you need us to do and say
to draw other people into your
impossibly wondrous love and grace.

We ask in Jesus’ name
who summons us to leave what we know
and follow him on his Way.  Amen.

Assurance of God’s Grace

In your baptism,
God names you “a chosen race”,
“a royal priesthood”,
“God’s own people”,
“a colony of heaven”.
Be assured that God
gives you all you need
to be what God has made you.
Open yourself to the Holy Spirit
and let God guide you
each day as you seek to
follow in Jesus’ Way.

The peace of Christ be with you.

.

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