Posts Tagged ‘courage’

our Lord, our Saviour,
you have claimed us as your own,
beloved children of a holy and good God.

In our best moments,
we know that to be true.
We trust it.
We live out of it with
confidence and hope and love and generosity.

We thank you that it is still true
when we turn away from you
and forget who we are
and whose we are
and what you have graced us to be.

You meet us in our weakness and in our failures
with a love that will not let us go.
You speak words of forgiveness that set us free.
You heal the wounds that cripple our souls.
You call us out of loneliness and into community
with others who are learning to
walk in your Way.

Speak those deep truths
deep into our hearts once again.
Make our spirits strong
with your strength
that we may have the courage
to stand against evil,
to speak the words that silence hate,
to risk the costs of loving.

Make our spirits strong
with your strength
that we may have the courage
to be your Body
broken and shared
with all the world.


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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.

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God of time and eternity
through your Holy Spirit
you lead us to places
where the light of your presence is shining;
through your risen Christ
you off us the blessings of your Reign of Love in our midst.

Yet, we are a double-minded people:
we want the future you have promised
but there are times when we are afraid that you will lead us
where we do not want to go;
we delight in the new creation you offer
but there are times when we cannot see it clearly enough
to dispel our fears of the unknown.
We want to be held by your life-giving power,
but there are times when we are afraid to let you
get that close to us.

Ground us deep in your love–
so deep that our fears and doubts give way to
joy and excitement at what you are doing;
so deep that our freedom and courage grows
strong enough to join you in your new creation.

Move us to act in your world
with a hope that cannot be deflected or destroyed.

Form us and transform us
so that we become signs of your truth
wherever we live and work and play.

We ask in the name of Jesus
who did your will
even when the Way ahead
was dark
and difficult
and dangerous;
who offers us your Holy Spirit
so that we love you
by keeping your word;
so that we can know your peace.

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God of time and of eternity,
we thank you for the signs in the most unlikely places
that you are in our midst,
bringing in your reign of love and healing and peace.

In Jesus, you invite us into the blessings of your reign
but there are times when we are afraid to say yes to the gifts you offer.
There are times when we are afraid your guiding hand
will lead us where we do not want to go.
There are times when we cannot see your new creation clearly enough
to dispel our fears.
There are times when we fear that letting go of what we know
will mean only loss.

Lord, have mercy.
Overcome our fears with your powerful grace.
Hold us fast in your faithfulness.
Ground us deep in your love.
Heal our blindness.

Then, do not leave us as we are.
Remake us.
Renew us in the image of your Son
so that we face all our days
with holy freedom and daring courage;
so the we live to your glory and honour and praise.


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This is part of a series of posts on the ways in which the structures of the church can inhibit all the people of a community of faith from fully expressing their ministry. Although congregations that are anxious about their future often try putting in place a new structure, thinking that that will solve their problems, it is important to note that changing the structures alone will not solve a church’s problems. Structures that no longer function well are often a sign of deeper issues that need to be addressed. As Christendom fades, the structures that fit Christendom stop serving the mission of the church. It is helpful to understand the underlying assumptions and dynamics that structures serve.

It is basic to the gospel that we are saved by the grace of God. God welcomes us into covenant relationship even when we have nothing to bring. It also true that the condition in which we enter into a life of faith is not the place where we are meant to end up. The scriptures assume that the local church is the primary learning environment for growing into maturity in Christ.  As each person is equipped and exercises his or her gifts and vocation, the whole community of faith is built up and comes alive. The gifts [Christ] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” ( Ephesians 4: 11-13, NRSV)

We are meant to grow into Christ, into deeper expressions of God’s grace, into mature expressions of faith. The Holy Spirit’s work is life-transforming as it disrupts the status quo and pushes the church out of its comfort zones. The work in the world that Christ entrusts to his people is tough, demanding work. It challenges each person to stretch beyond what she or he is at the present time. It challenges each person to mature in faith.

As the saying goes, “God loves us just as we are. God loves us too much to leave us that way.” Living into the grace of God, being a disciple of Jesus, joining God’s mission of compassion and reconciliation in the world — none of this comes naturally. The currency of Christian community is love in the midst of human brokenness. Maturing in faith is deeply relational. It involves learning to love, forgiving and being forgiven, and struggling to continue loving after being hurt. It requires honesty and vulnerability.
On several occasions, in Paul’s letters to young churches, he laments that the community of faith has stalled in its spiritual growth:

By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one—baby’s milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God’s ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong.

So come on, let’s leave the preschool finger-painting exercises on Christ and get on with the grand work of art. Grow up in Christ.  (Hebrews 5:12-6:3, The Message)

There are many reasons why people fail to mature in faith. The governing structure of the church can hinder the spiritual growth of disciples.

Maturity includes the capacity to make decisions and to take responsibility for the consequences of those decisions. Unfortunately, the church is often structured in such a way that only a few people participate in ministry and mission decisions of a congregation. For instance, the most common governing structure for congregations in the United Church of Canada is hierarchical. Only a small percentage of the congregation is needed to run the church. When most of the authority in a congregation rests in a few people, and when the decision-making for the most important issues is done by the few on behalf of everyone else, most people in a congregation are thereby reduced to being ‘volunteers’ or onlookers. They do not sense much responsibility for the decisions made by others. “Their faith, having no sphere for its growth and development lies dormant” ( Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1962), chapter 8).  The baptized often feel little need to move more deeply into faith and hope.

In the long-term, this leaves many people of the congregation feeling inadequate in their faith. They do not feel confident in their ability to live the Christian life, either within the church structures or in their life in the world. They doubt their competence to share their faith with others. The hierarchical governance structures can mean they are not placed in situations where they get to face these feelings of inadequacy.

In addition, the decision-making process in many United Church of Canada congregations is extremely cumbersome. Permission-giving requires several layers of approval and long delays. The cumbersome decision-making processes aim at ensuring that the activities of the church are done successfully. Fearing failure and disorder, the system puts measures into place to protect itself against a loss of control. The congregation is not encouraged or permitted to risk bold ventures in faith. As a result, it becomes difficult for a congregation to remain flexible enough to respond to fresh leading from the Spirit. The system becomes tame and timid. Its decisions become passive and reactive rather than creative and innovative.

It is as people are pushed beyond what they are already capable of doing  that they are forced to learn to depend more deeply upon God’s grace. As they find themselves in situations where their own strength is not enough, they are driven to praying deeper prayers. A community that expects to experience and acknowledge failure also finds that it needs to cultivate the challenging Christian practices of being forgiven and forgiving and beginning again.

Sadly, when people who are looking for fullness of life and daring adventure don’t find it in the church, they go elsewhere. The church then not only misses out on the energy and new life that comes through those who are willing to take bold risks. The church also is deprived of those persons who would encourage the whole congregation to be more bold and courageous in following the leading of the Holy Spirit.

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Growing the Church when people get in the Way

One of the tests of leadership comes when you have to decide: “Who am I willing to sacrifice in order to reach my goals? Who am I willing to shove out of my way in order to achieve success? Who am I prepared to step over on my way to the top?”

In the scriptures, one of the pivotal stories of David’s leadership is his sacrifice of Uriah while trying to protect his reputation (2 Samuel 11 -12). He had had sex with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, while Uriah was away fighting one of Israel’s battles. When Bathsheba told David that she was pregnant, he arranged for Uriah to come home on a month’s leave. David hoped that Uriah’s visit home would lead to Uriah believing that he was responsible for Bathsheba’s pregnancy. However, Uriah spends his leave sleeping on David’s porch, unwilling to enjoy relations with his wife while his fellow soldiers are on the battlefield. When Uriah returns to battle, David arranges for him to serve on the front line where he is almost certain to be killed.

Sometimes people are willing to sacrifice others in order to save their own skin. We encounter a greater test and greater danger when we convince ourselves that our goal is more noble than mere self-protection.

I have seen this happen when a community sets its goal as growing the church. They want to be part of a success story. They want to pass the faith on to more people. They want to serve God well. Then, some people stand in the way of achieving those goals. Sometimes people resist the changes that must be made. Some people raise uncomfortable questions. Sometimes, like Uriah, their commitments and character make them appear to be obstacles to success.

How a faith community deals with such people reveals its true character. Are people who stand in the way of ‘success’ to be thrown aside? bulldozed? bullied into submission? Does the end justify the means?

The problem for a community of faith is that the ‘end’ is a community of love shaped by the Holy Spirit into maturity in Christ. You cannot cultivate a community that reflects the love of Christ by trampling over people and treating relationships as disposable. Our ends and our means must be consistent. The way we get to our goals must reflect the Way of Christ.

Recently I was in a workshop where people were talking about the ways in which they were trying to grow their churches: updating the music in worship; offering entertaining programmes; issuing more invitations. Then, one woman spoke out: It is about relationships. Those young people see the way we treat one another and then decide that they don’t want any part of the church.”

Cultivating loving relationships that reflect the grace of Jesus Christ is long, slow, hard work. Such work requires patience, forgiveness, humility, courage. As Jesus was gathering his community of disciples he asked, “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? (Mark 8:36)”.  That would be a good question for churches to ask as they work toward their goals.

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A number of years ago, Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment in his laboratory in Yale. He brought in a randomly selected group of people and told them that they were participating in research on human behaviour. Each participant was put into a room that had a one-way mirror. S/he could see another person in another room sitting on a chair; that person could not see him or her. The participant (teacher) was given a list of word pairs which s/he was to teach to the person in the other room (learner). After reading through the list of word pairs, the teacher would read the first word of each pair to the learner, along with four possible answers. The learner was to push a button indicating which answer was the ‘pair’ to the word. The teacher was told to work a dial which would supposedly administer an electric shock to the learner whenever that person gave an incorrect answer. In actuality, the person in the other room was an actor and the dial was phony. When the dial was turned, the actor would grimace as if being shocked. To Milgram’s surprise, 100% of the people administered what they thought to be an intense shock when told to do so by the white-coated researcher.

In another experiment, the person in charge was not wearing an official-looking white coat. The experiment was conducted in an old basement. Milgram offered the participants every opportunity to refuse to administer the shock. Even so, many did as they were told. They submitted to the person whom they perceived to have authority and power.

When you decide to follow Jesus, God sets you on a path of confronting who and what exercises authority and power in your life. Following Jesus means developing the capacity to resist pressure from people with power and authority when what they want you to do will betray your humanity or trespass the dignity of others. Your primary allegiance is to God: to shape your relationships according to the way of Jesus. You will find your loyalties and your actions being shaped in peculiar ways.

Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the influential atheists of the nineteenth century. He once accused the Christian Church of having taken the side of everything weak, base and ill-constituted. He believed that the world ran by the law of evolution and that its rules favoured power and competition. He was frustrated the Christians were, again and again, choosing the must un-Darwinian objects for their love.

Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity lavish their care on people whom others consider to be homeless wretches who have days, if not hours, to live. Mother Teresa considered acts of compassion for the poorest of the poor a great privilege: Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them. (http://www.verybestquotes.com/150-mother-teresa-quotes/)

Jean Vanier has spent his life cultivating communities where able-bodied assistants live with men and women with mental and physical handicaps, many of whom are unable to speak or co-ordinate their movements. While he could have done many things with his considerable gifts and talents, he says that it is this work among people whom others dismiss as unimportant that has given his life meaning.

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement freely admits the folly of her soup kitchens: “What a delightful thing it is to be boldly profligate — to ignore the price of coffee and to go on serving the long line of destitute men who come to us good coffee and the finest bread.”

There are those who would call these people insane or crazy because of their peculiar sense of what is important. The world needs more of that kind of madness. It is the same kind of madness that led Jesus to touch people whom others had labelled ‘untouchable’. It is the same madness that led Jesus to dine with people whom others would cross the street to avoid, and to challenge the people who wanted him to keep quiet because they didn’t want trouble.

It is the same kind of madness that led God to leave the glory of heaven and to dwell among us. In Jesus, God suffered and died and was raised from the dead so that we, too, might experience Christ’s victory over the powers of evil and death.

When we offer ourselves to Jesus, we offer to live lives which mirror, at least to some degree, his love and mercy and grace — even if those lives look peculiar to people who judge us by this world’s standards of success and conformity.

In a sense, people like Mother Teresa, Jean Vanier, and Dorothy Day reached a point where it was easier for them than for people like you and me to live into such peculiarity. They achieved a level of renown. People no longer think them mad. They have become saints, heroes, models to be admired. It is a different story to labour quietly in your ordinary life, trying to live with integrity and compassion and courage amidst pressures to abandon Jesus’ peculiar standards. It is a different story for you and I to speak the truth, to say ‘no’ when everyone else is saying ‘yes’, to give extravagantly or forgive graciously, to choose to stand with people whom others are attacking.

Where do you find the courage to follow Jesus when he leads you against the flow? Mother Teresa wrote that you find it in humility: Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal ( In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers).

Brennan Manning once pointed out that Jesus’ closest friend on earth, a disciple named John, is identified in the gospels as, “the one Jesus loved.” Wrote Manning, “If John were to be asked, “What is your primary identity in life, he would not reply, ‘I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four gospels’, but rather, ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’”

That is who you are: You are the one Jesus loves. That is your primary identity. No matter what anyone else tries to have you be or do, you are the one Jesus loves. Live deeply into that identity; act courageously out of that identity. You may seem peculiar to people who know only this world’s pressure to conform. Never mind that. It is Jesus’ blessed and holy peculiarity that is healing this broken world. It is Jesus’ blessed and holy peculiarity that will give you peace. You are the one Jesus loves. Let that give you courage to act in truth and love.

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