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Posts Tagged ‘love of God’

In the Christian calendar, this Sunday is a feast day called “the baptism of our Lord”. Jesus began his public ministry by showing up at the Jordan River and being baptized by his cousin, John the Baptizer. The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord used to be a more important celebration than Christmas. A surprising number of icons painted by the early church depict Jesus’ baptism.

For early Christians, baptism was a life-defining act. If you decided you wanted to become a follower of Jesus, you presented yourself to a local congregation. They would question you. Then, you would embark on a programme of preparation of baptism that would last two years.

During those two years you would learn the stories of Jesus and participate in the worshipping community. Mentors would teach you to pray. They would help you examine your life and learn to live the odd, peculiar ways of Jesus’ community.

Being baptized was neither automatic nor easy. It was also dangerous. For much of the first three centuries of the church’s existence, Christians were a persecuted minority. You made a very intentional decision. It changed who you were. It gave you a new identity, a new life. You became different from others around you.

Then, all that changed. One night, the Roman Emperor, Constantine, had a dream, or a vision, of a cross in the sky. He heard a voice that said, “By this sing you shall conquer.” When he woke up, he decided that everyone in the Roman Empire was going to be a Christian. Roman soldiers would come to a village, herd everyone into a lake and everyone would emerge baptized.

The soldiers themselves had to be baptized. They did not know much about being a follower of Jesus, but they did know that it means renouncing violence. They knew Jesus had said, “Turn the other cheek.” This created a problem for soldiers. How could they be baptized as followers of Jesus and still fulfill their duties to the Emperor?

Some of them came up with a solution: as a soldier was being immersed in the waters of baptism, he would hold his sword arm out of the waters. That meant that the soldier had been baptized — all of him except the hand which held his sword. With that arm he could serve the Emperor.

We all do it. We all hold some portion of our lives out of the waters of our baptism. God can be Lord of our lives on Sunday but, when we get to work on Monday, we operate by a different set of rules. We can let Jesus comfort us when we are troubled or suffering but, in those times when we are strong and feel like we are in control of our lives, we figure we do not need to refer to him.

In the 1940’s, Clarence Jordan founded a community in Americus, Georgia. In the deep south of the United States, he founded a community that was to be a living sign of and witness to the Kingdom of heaven which Jesus had inaugurated. It was a community where everyone was welcome — blacks and whites, rich and poor.

People ridiculed them. They found themselves embroiled in a number of legal battles because it was against the law for blacks and whites to share meals together, much less raise their children together.

Clarence’s brother was Robert. At the time he was just a country lawyer, but he would eventually become a state senator and a justice in the Georgia Supreme Court. Clarence asked Robert for help with a legal battle. Robert replied, “I can’t do that. You know my political aspirations. If I represented you, I might lose everything.”

Clarence replied, “We might lose everything too. Why is this so different? When we were boys, we joined church on the same Sunday.”

Robert said, “I follow Jesus up to a point.”

“Would that point by any chance be the cross?”
“That’s right. I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not going to get crucified.”

“Well, Robert,”  said Clarence, “I don’t think you are a disciple of Jesus. I think you are an admirer of Jesus. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to and tell them that you are an admirer of Jesus, not a disciple.” (Stanley HauerwasMatthew, p.57)

We are not used to making such a harsh distinction. Our traditions around baptism were shaped largely by a time when everyone was baptized as a matter of social custom. We tend to think of it as a ritual that mostly involves babies and little children.

If you ask the parents who still seek baptism for their children, “Why do you want your child baptized?”, they are, for the most part, unclear about it. They are unsure not only about why they are asking for baptism but also about what baptism means.

That might be true for most of us. That can be partly explained because the cultural understanding of what baptism is, is changing. It is no longer something everybody just does as  matter of course. As the church moves back to being on the margins of society, we are becoming more like the early church. Baptism is again taking a more central role in the identity and mission of the church. Once more, it is becoming the gateway into a community of people whose lives are shaped by commitments and convictions that are different from much of the rest of the culture. We are a community that becomes different from the world as we participate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Baptism is not just something that happened to us when we were babies. It initiated us into a way of living where we are continually turning, or orienting, our lives toward to God who is revealed to us in Jesus of Nazareth. It happens once but it takes a whole life to live into it. It shapes our spirituality. It forms our identity. We are a baptized and baptizing community of faith.

Martin Luther lived in the sixteenth century and was a leader in the Protestant Reformation. The spirituality that was shaped by his baptism led him to confront the abuses and corruption of the church in his day. He was often in trouble. He was often troubled. When he was troubled, he would trace the sign of the cross that had been marked on his forehead in his baptism. He would say to himself, “I am a baptized person.”

He didn’t say, “I was baptized.” He said, “I am a baptized person.” It reminded him that God had called him to speak truth to power. It reminded him that the Holy Spirit surrounded him and kept him in the midst of trouble.

A few years ago, I led a study group that looked at the meanings of baptism. I invited the participants to go through the week saying, “I am a baptized person” and to trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads, either literally or simply in their minds.

They came back the next week and many of them reported how amazed they were at the difference it had made in their lives. One woman said, “I was in situations where I was tempted to be petty or mean — to join in office politics and gossip. I would visualize the sign of the cross and say to myself, “I am a baptized person”. That enabled me to turn away from all of the meanness and to live into a the better standard that I cherish for myself.”

Another person found the ritual enormously comforting. It reminded her that nothing that happened to her could take her outside the realm of God’s redeeming power and gracious love.

Baptism is a gateway into a way of life that is shaped by God’s claim upon us. This is both wonderful and rightening.

It is wonderful because God has a good and holy purpose for our lives — a purpose that lifts us up and gives dignity and hope and meaning. In baptism God gives the Holy Spirit to empower us for all that that entails.

It is wonderful because, when we learn constantly to turn our lives toward Jesus Christ, we experience the presence of God in amazing and life-giving ways.

It is frightening because we are often afraid that God may demand more of us than we are ready to give. God may ask us to make changes that we do not want to make. We may be afraid that God will judge us for not measuring up, not being good enough, not doing enough.

Both the wonder and the fear are gathered into the waters of our baptism. As you live into that powerful event, you rise again and again to hear more and more deeply the words first spoken to Jesus, “You are my Beloved. You are my delight.” (Matthew 3: 13-17)

That is who you truly are. It is a gift that will see you through all your days. It is a gift you get to offer to others.  We are a community called to flood the world with the love we have received. This week, whenever anyone or anything makes you feel small or insignificant or alone, remember your baptism. Live into your high and holy calling. It is the gift of God’s grace for you. Thanks be to God.

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“In the Spotlight of God’s Love”

A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship

Scriptures: Psalm 8John 1: 1-5

The climate of this planet is changing. The top three warmest years in recorded history have happened since 1998. The top ten warmest years have happened since 1990. Some of the world’s top scientists have warned that the world’s oceans are suffering severe troubles partially because of climate change. Overfishing and pollution have put the ocean’s populations under unprecedented stress. Increasingly, weather is in the news, reporting the damage caused by severe weather patterns.

We face a great challenge: How do we live in creation without destroying it? At its heart, that is a spiritual question. It has to do with what we believe about God and about human beings and about our relationship with this world that God has entrusted to our care. We set ourselves under the stories and prayers in the scriptures that tell us about God’s creation, our place within it, and our role in its care, and we discover that the answer coes with wonder and awe.

We live in a culture that, in many ways, does not encourage wonder. It comes naturally, spontaneously, in childhood. If you watch little children, you see them discovering this amazing world for the first time. You see their delight in the smallest of things. However, over time and in many little ways, that sense of wonder can get squeezed out. You can get pre-occupied with mastering and controlling the world. You can get busy becoming competent in manipulating its elements. You can become pre-occupied with ‘getting ahead’.

Wonder takes time. It is about mystery. It requires that you loosen your tight grip on life so you can be surprised, allowing the unknown and the unexpected come to you. You can get so busy that you lose the wonder that feeds your soul. You can lose the wonder that is at the root of living well and reverently in creation.

The awe of God is the beginning point of cultivating the capacity for wonder within our lives. It is the beginning point for living lives that are adequate to the great gift of this marvellous and precious creation. That is where Psalm 8 begins: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” The Psalm begins and ends praising God.

That is what frames our lives, it claims: the majesty, the glory of the Lord, the Sovereign of all the earth. In Hebrew, the word is actually YHWH. YHWH is the personal name God gave to Moses when God showed up in a bush that burned but did not burn up. YHWH is the name of the God who enters into covenant with a group of newly liberated slaves and leads them through the wilderness.

It is an amazing claim. What frames our lives is not just a generic deity, a vague energy force. Our lives take place within a creation ruled by a named God who keeps showing up in our lives and in our world. We are not orphans, lost in an indifferent cosmos. We are met. We are claimed by a God who sets God’s glory above the heavens. This God puts moons and stars in their places, lifting nothing more than the fingers of God’s hands. This powerful, cosmic God is, nevertheless, mindful of us human beings. This God attends to us mere mortals.

“Why do you bother with us?” asks the psalmist. “Why take a second look our way?” And yet, YHWH does bother. YHWH does take a second look. This God does even more than that. John’s gospel begins by quoting an early Christian hymn. It sings the wonder of the God who created the cosmos by the power of God’s Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life” (John 1: 1-3)    Then, This God became flesh and blood, “moved into the neighbourhood” (The Message) as Jesus of Nazareth.

By the end of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we know that this God cares for us and for this world so much that God is willing to go to hell and back to rescue us and to restore our broken relationships with God and with each other.

Julian of Norwich, one of the great mystical saints of the Church, said, “Human beings are clothed in divine love.” God’s love wraps around us. God’s love enfold us every moment of our lives. We are not always loveable. We are certainly not always aware of that love, but that love is the bedrock of our lives. The sovereign ruler of the cosmos loves us and cares for us with an infinite, attentive, creative love.

So many people whom we encounter day by day do not know that. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine being loved that deeply and not knowing it? Our culture mostly gives us two messages. We are told either, “You are the centre of everything and you deserve to get everything you want or desire”, or “You are nothing more than a bundle of appetites. You are nothing more than the chance product of the survival of the fittest.” We live in the tension between these two messages.

Both of them lead us away from wonder. Both of them destroy community and compassion and care. They lead us, in the first case, to reach too high for our own good, trampling over others in careless arrogance. In the second case, we settle for too little, figuring that there is nothing we can to do make a difference so we might just pursue our own private happiness and comfort.

Then, we come to worship and we pray Psalm 8. We remember that we are not gods and goddesses. We cannot arrogantly use and abuse this planet. We are accountable to a sovereign Creator who bestows upon us great dignity and a holy purpose: to love and care for this fragile creation.

We come to worship and we pray Psalm 8 as a protest against every force that tries to demean us, to make us think less of ourselves than we should.

We hold these two truth together: You have made us a little less than gods; yet, You have given us charge over Your handcrafted world.”

It is said that a rabbi said that every person should carry two stones in her pockets. During the day, she should touch the one stone and remember, “I am but dust and ashes.” She should touch the other stone and remember, “For my sake, the whole universe was created.” The rabbi said that each person should use each stone as she needs it.

We face large problems for which there are no easy, large-scale solutions. The way forward will consist of many small actions. The way forward begins with framing our lives in the loving care of a sovereign God who bestows upon each of you great dignity and responsibility. This morning, you are invited to take two stones from the basket at the front. Take them remembering, “I am but dust and ashes” and “For my sake, the whole universe was created. Take two stones for yourself and two stones for someone else. Invite that person to live this week, each day, with wonder. “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett on John 20: 1-18

On the evening before Jesus died, Jesus gathered his disciples together and made them a promise. He said, “In a little while, I am going to leave you, but I will not leave you desolate. I will not leave you orphaned. I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit to be with you in my name. So, don’t let your hearts be troubled. Don’t let them be afraid.” (John 14)

Though the centuries, in joy, in sorrow, in the midst of trouble, Jesus’ followers have counted on that promise. If I were to ask you, “What is the gospel? What is the faith that comforts you and sustains you and carries you when you suffer?”, I expect that many of you would answer, “God is with you. We do not journey alone. We do not suffer alone. ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. For Thou are with me. Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me’ (Psalm 23)”.

A New Creed of the United Church of Canada proclaims, ‘We are not alone. We live in God’s world. . . . In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. Thanks be to God.” At Christmas, we heard Jesus named Emmanuel — God-with-us. As we headed into Holy Week, Jesus promised, “I will not leave you desolate.”

We count on it. We hold onto it. Time and time again people have told me that they have felt its truth in their lives.

And yet, there have also been times when counting on that promise has been more a matter of faith than of certainty. You can go through stretches — sometimes long stretches— when you do not experience God present with you. You can come to a place where you have to choose to trust that God is with you. You choose to trust the promise even thought there is so much evidence to the contrary. You lean into the promise rather than resting in it. There may be times when you cannot manage even that.

This morning’s gospel story tells us that that is where Easter begins. Did you catch it? “Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” “While it was still dark”, because on Friday, Jesus, the Light of the World, had died on a Roman cross and his disciples’ hope had died with him. “While it was still dark” — in those times when nothing you can do will fix what has gone wrong and you cannot make it right no matter how hard you try. “While it was still dark” — in those times when the disciples of Jesus, the community of faith, is scattered, and fragmented and frightened and not at all sure what the future holds.

In that dark place, where hope cannot be found, and you are full of questions and doubts and uncertainties and you may not even be able to pray, God is at work. Even there the promise hold.

Very often, God’s resurrection work in your life is going to be hidden from your eyes. That does not mean that nothing is happening. By the time any of us gets to Easter morning, God has already entered into the depths of our lives, overcome the power of death and brought the dead to life and begun a new creation, a new world.

The chances are that you are going to see the evidence of God’s resurrection, God’s saving work in your life, only well after Easter has already begun. More than that, the chances are that it won’t look anything like you thought it would.

Mary comes to Jesus’ tomb, expecting to sit for a while in her grief and her pain and her loss. She sees that the stone that had been rolled in front of the tomb on Friday now had been removed from the tomb. She does not immediately thing, “Oh, look — resurrection! God has raised Jesus from the dead. Everything is okay now.” No. She sees the emptiness and the absence and says, “Someone has taken the Lord out of the tomb and we do not know where they have laid him.” She thinks that the grave has been robbed. It wasn’t enough that the powers-that-be had killed Jesus. Now, they had added hurt upon hurt, sorrow upon sorrow and had stolen him away from her as well.

She runs to the church — to Peter and the beloved disciple. They are not too sure what to make of the empty tomb either. They both see signs of God’s resurrection power at work — the stone moved away, the missing body, the folded grave cloths —but only one of them ‘believed’ and they both just went back home. They went back to the way things already were, as if nothing had happened. Mary stays, weeping outside the tomb. She turns around and sees someone standing there and she thinks it is the gardener.

The God who comes to us in Jesus is a God who creates new life where there is only death; a God who takes our dead ends and opens up new possibilities; a God who makes new and heals and saves. Yet, this new resurrection life does not come easily. None of us receives it easily.

You can get stuck in your expectations of what God is supposed to do, or what God’s work is supposed to look like, or what God’s promised presence is supposed to feel like. You are going to have difficulty recognizing the risen Christ in your life. Nadia Bolz-Weber has said, “A God of resurrection means that the story is seldom over when we think it is . . . Being a person of faith doesn’t mean you get to be certain. It means you get to be surprised.”

Our God is a living God, a God of surprises. “I will not leave you desolate,” promises Jesus, but the only way to live into Jesus’ promise is to “live expectantly but without expectations”. All we know is this: God’s love is a firm, determined love that will not let you go. There is no situation so lost that God cannot find you in it and bring you home. There is no wreckage so total that God cannot redeem it and use it for good and holy purposes. God works way beyond your expectations. Resurrection is larger, deeper, more wondrous than any of us expects.

A Risen Saviour is on the loose. Nothing in all creation can stop him. And he knows your name. Thanks be to God.

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A prayer based on Psalm 116 (The Message)

 

We thank you, God, because you are good

and your love never quits.

When we are pushed to the wall,

you answer from the wide open spaces,

summoning us into your freedom.

Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection,

You come to our side,

you walk with us every step of the way,

and we learn not to be afraid.

When we are on the cliff-edge,

ready to fall, you grab us,

your Spirit holds us fast.

Most compassionate God,

You are our strength.

You are our song.

You are our salvation.

O God, our God,

we lift you high in praise.

Your love never quits.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia on June 26, 2011.

 Scriptures:            Psalm 8;  John 1; Isaiah 43: 1-7

In the summer of 2011, our congregation installed air conditioning in the chapel. The advantage of doing so is that it enables us to provide a more hospitable atmosphere for people who might come to worship with us in the summer. Also, it will enable us to concentrate more on worshipping God and less on how hot and uncomfortable we are. There is also a disadvantage of doing so, however. An air-conditioned worship space becomes one more place where we are out of touch with the reality of what is happening around us.

The top 3 warmest years in recorded history have happened since 1998. The top 10 warmest years have happened since 1990. Some of the world’s top scientists are warning us that the world’s oceans are suffering severely partially because of climate change. Over-fishing and pollution have left the oceans’ population under unprecedented stress. Others tell us that all the ocean reefs in the world are dying and nothing we do now will change that. The news this spring was filled with reports of the damage caused by severe weather patterns. The climate of this planet is changing.

Most of us seldom feel those effects. We go from our temperature-controlled homes into temperature-controlled cars to work in temperature-controlled work places or recreational facilities. Nevertheless, all of us are becoming more aware that our planet is facing great challenges.

How do we live in creation without destroying it? At its heart, this is a spiritual question. It has to do with what we believe about God and about human beings and about our relationship with this world that God has given to us.

Our culture often does not encourage a sense of wonder. Wonder comes naturally and spontaneously in childhood. Watch little children and you will see their delight in the smallest things. You will see them discovering this amazing world for the first time. However, over time, in many little ways, the wonder gets squeezed out of us. We get pre-occupied with mastering our world. We focus on controlling it in more ways. We get busy gaining competence and getting ahead.

Wonder, on the other hand, is about mystery. It requires us to loosen our tight grip on life so that we can be surprised, allowing the unknown and the unexpected to come to us. Wonder takes time. We can get so busy that we lose the wonder that feeds our souls; the wonder that enables us to live; the wonder that is at the root of living well and reverently in creation.

As we seek to live lives that are adequate to this great gift of creation, we begin in worship. Worship provides an opportunity to find our way back into living lives that are open to wonder. Awe of God is the beginning point of cultivating the capacity to live well.

Within worship, we set ourselves under the stories and prayers in the scriptures that tell us about God’s creation, our place in it, and our role in it. They invite us to enter into the wonder and awe that are the primary emotions in these scriptures. They lead us deeper into worshipping the Creator who gave us this marvelous, precious creation to sustain and to delight us.

That is where Psalm 8 begins. It orients us, first of all, toward God:

“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

Psalm 8 ends with the same words, praising God. This is what frames our life: the majesty and the glory of the Lord, the sovereign of all the earth. (Eugene Peterson, Answering God, p. 110)

In Hebrew, the word translated as “Lord” is actually YHWH. It is the personal name God gave to Moses when God showed up in the burning bush. YHWH is the name of the God who enters into covenant with a group of newly liberated slaves. What frames our lives is not just a generic deity, a vague energy force got the world started but now just ‘is’. Our lives take place within a creation ruled by a named God who keeps showing up in our time and place. We are met and claimed by God who set God’s glory above the heavens. This God put the moons and the stars in their places by lifting nothing more than the fingers of God’s hands. This powerful, cosmic God is, nevertheless, mindful of us human beings. God attends to us mere mortals.

“Why do you bother with us?” asks the psalmist. “Why take a second look our way?” Yet, YHWH does bother. YHWH does take a second look. In fact, YHWH does infinitely more than that.

John’s gospel begins by quoting an early Christian hymn: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. It sings the wonder of the God who created the cosmos by the power of God’s Word. Then, the wonder deepens at the news that this God became flesh and blood. This God “moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1: 14, The Message). By the end of Jesus’ life and death, we know that this God cares for us and for our world so much that God is willing to go to hell and back to rescue us and to restore our broken relationships with God and with each other.

Julian of Norwich, one of the great mystical saints of the Church, once wrote, “Human beings are clothed in divine love.” God’s love wraps around us. God’s love enfolds us every moment of our lives.  We are not always loveable. We are certainly not always aware of God’s love. However, that love is the bedrock truth of our lives. The sovereign ruler of the cosmos loves us and cares for us with an infinite, attentive and creative love.  So many people whom we encounter day by day do not know that. Imagine being that deeply loved and not knowing it!

Our culture mostly gives us two messages. We’re told either, “You are the centre of everything and you deserve to get everything you want or desire,” or “You are nothing more than a bundle of appetites. You are nothing more than the chance product of the survival of the fittest.”  (Douglas John Hall, The Steward, p. 52)

We live in the tension between those two messages. Both of them lead us away from wonder. Both of them destroy community and compassion and care. The one leads us to reach too high for our own good. We end up trampling others and treating creation with careless arrogance on our way to get all we ‘deserve’. Alternatively, we settle for too little. We figure that there is nothing we can do to make a difference so we might as well just pursue our own private happiness and comfort.

Then, we come to worship and we pray Psalm 8. We remember that we are not gods and goddesses. We cannot arrogantly use and abuse this planet. We are accountable, answerable, to a sovereign Creator who bestows upon us great dignity and holy purpose. We are to love and to care for this fragile creation.

At the same time, we come to worship and we pray Psalm 8 as a protest against every force that tries to demean us. We protest against every power that tries to make us think less of ourselves than we should. We are beloved children of an attentive God.

We come to worship and we pray Psalm 8 as a way of holding these two truths together:   “You have made us a little less than gods; yet you have given us charge over your handcrafted world.”

A rabbi once said that each of us should carry two stones in our pockets. One stone was to remind us, “I am but dust and ashes.”  We are not immortal. We are creatures and we live within limits. The other stone was to remind us, “For my sake, the whole universe was created.” He suggested that each of us should use each stone as we need it.

We face large problems for which there are no large-scale solutions. The way forward will consist of many small actions. The way forward begins with framing our lives within the loving care of the sovereign God who bestows upon each person great dignity and great responsibility.

At the front of the sanctuary, there are baskets with stones in them. You are invited to come forward and take two of them. Put them in your pockets. This week, as you touch them, remember: “I am but dust and ashes,”   and  “For my sake, the whole universe was created.” Use each one as you need it.

Take two for yourself. Take another two for someone else who needs to know the great love God has for him or her. And live each day with wonder: “O Lord, our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

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