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A prayer based on Luke 7: 1-10

Lord Jesus Christ,
you are the Bread of Life.
You are the one true Vine.
You promise that you are
the end of our hunger,
the end of our thirsting.

Yet, other promises have been made to us:
promises that,
if we work hard enough,
we shall get the life we want;
if we buy the right things,
we shall find love and acceptance;
if we are good enough,
we shall find the power and admiration
that our souls crave.

We know it isn’t true,
but we are seduced anyway.

We wander far from your grace
that welcomes us,
that heals our brokenness,
that gives us hope.

Speak your Word, Jesus,
and we shall be healed.
Speak the Word that
brings life where we see only death;
speak the Word that gathers up the pieces
and makes us your new creation;
speak the Word that sets us firmly in the grip of
your steadfast love and faithfulness.

Then, send us out in your holy name.
Give us to the world you love
that our whole lives might be
an offering to you.

Amen.

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A sermon based on Luke 3: 51-22 for Baptism of our Lord Sunday

If someone were to ask you, “Who is Jesus?”, what would you say?

Is he an interesting human being or is he the Son of God?

Is he a great spiritual leader among the world’s other spiritual leaders or is he Lord of lords and King of kings, Very God of Very God?

Is he the person in the picture on a wall from your childhood or is he your Lord and Master and saviour?

Is he someone you have bet your life on?

When we try to say who Jesus is, we tend to use titles, names, and ideas. When the gospels try to tell us who Jesus is, they tell us stories. In those stories, it is never completely obvious who Jesus is. Different interpretations are always possible. Who he is is always open to debate.

We think we have trouble knowing who Jesus is because we know so much. Modern science tells us how the world works — what is possible and what is not possible. It teaches us to be sceptical about the claims that Jesus healed a leper or fed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish. Besides, we are in contact with people from other faiths who worship other gods. What do you do with someone who claims, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me.”

We think we have trouble with Jesus because we know so much more than the people of Jesus’ time. “No,” say the gospels, “Jesus’ identity has always been contested. It has always been uncertain.” A few people believed that he was the Saviour of the world. Most thought he was crazy and wanted him dead.

A few people said, “This is God in the flesh, living among us full of grace and truth.” Most people thought he was an arrogant trouble-maker who ought to be silenced.

Even those who followed him — his friends and companions — were not always sure what to make of him. Mostly, they just caught glimpses that left them awestruck and wanting more.

The gospel writers do not just give us titles for Jesus. They do not give us definitions or explanations. They tell us stories. Stories, it seems are a much better vehicle for telling the truth about who this Jew from Nazareth is. Stories are deeper and more complex than definitions, just like Jesus is.

One story all four gospels tell is the story of John the Baptist. They all tell that story at the very beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. If you want to know who Jesus is, you have to get past John first.

John is always out in the wilderness, in the desert. The wilderness is a place where survival is at risk. There are not a lot of resources easily available for you to live. When the gospels tell you that John is in the wilderness, they are not speaking about geography as much as they are doing theology. They are saying that you probably won’t really figure out who Jesus is until life takes you to a wilderness place. There is something about Jesus that is simply not compelling to people who are comfortable with the way things are. People who are at ease in the world do not seem to find him of much interest.

You don’t really start getting to know who Jesus is until you get news from the doctor that shatters your comfortably settled world and you find your life turned upside down.

You don’t really start wrestling with this Saviour until you realize that there is a dark and dangerous wilderness in the middle of a quiet city where innocent people can be kidnapped and killed.

You don’t work too hard at figuring out who Jesus is until your church is two thirds empty Sunday after Sunday and all the programmes and solutions you try don’t work to turn things around and you start wondering whether or not your church is going to survive.

That’s when you really start having to have an answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”

The gospels take you deeper into your wilderness and introduce you to Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer. John the Baptizer was a wild, eccentric character. He was preaching out in the wilderness, saying out loud what everybody knows: “Things aren’t working anymore, folks. The economy isn’t working and there is no easy fix. We’ve messed up creation with our greed and carelessness and now floods and storms and earthquakes are shaking up our world. Relationships are broken — between individuals and between communities and between nations. If we keep heading in the direction we are heading, we shall just encounter more troubles. It is time to turn around. It is time to head into a different direction.”

The crowds loved it. They go worked up and started thinking, “Maybe he is the one. Maybe he will be able to lead us out of the mess we are in. Maybe he will be able to fix what is wrong.”

John says, “Not me. I am not your Saviour. I am just here to point you to the one who is your Saviour. He is mightier than I am. His power is so great that I am not worthy even to be his slave. When he shows up, then things will really change. He will tell truth so scorching that every feeble excuse you make, every lie you have been telling yourself, will burn up and blow away. The words he speaks will expose your idolatries. He will shake your world and disrupt all the complacent defences you are putting up against God. That’s who Jesus is.”

Then there comes the best line in the whole story: “So, with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people.” Does John’s speech sound like ‘good news’ to you?

Not everybody wants a Jesus as powerful as what John describes. Herod didn’t want as much truth as even John told and Herod put him in prison. Within three years, he would do the same and worse to Jesus.

It is a curious way to introduce us to Jesus, don’t you think? If I were going to introduce you to Jesus I would tell you that Jesus is a steady anchor when everything else in your life is in chaos and turmoil.

I would tell you that Jesus, the living Christ, can be your sure and steadfast friend when life takes you to the depths of loneliness.

I would tell you that the resurrected Christ is God’s promise that even our dead ends won’t stop God’s good and loving purposes.

But, I am not the one telling the story here. The gospel writers are. They are people who bet their lives on this Jesus and they begin by telling you that Jesus will tell you the truth about your life so powerfully that he will knock your socks off. It is a curious way to introduce us to Jesus, unless this Jesus really is God’s beloved Son, with whom God is well-pleased. It is a curious way to introduce us to Jesus unless Jesus really is the one upon whom the Holy Spirit rests and the truth he tells is the truth that will give you life in all its fullness. The truth he tells is truth that heals your brokenness and sets you free from the fears that bind you. The truth he tells gives us God’s glory and power and love.

If that is the truth, perhaps then, the real question is not “Who is Jesus?” Perhaps the real question is, “Will you let him near?”

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett 

Scripture: Luke 24: 13-38

 

Let me tell you a story. It is a story from the most ancient traditions of our faith. It is a story that tells us the kind of people we are meant to be. It is a story about our ancestors in the faith. Their names were Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham and Sarah were nomads who lived in the region between Israel and Egypt. God had promised them that God would bless them with many children. “Look toward the heaven and count the stars if you can . . . That ‘s how many descendants you shall have.” (Genesis 15:5, 22:17, 26:4)

Abraham and Sarah believed the promise. They tried to live their lives trusting the Promise Maker, although they did not always succeed in doing that. The years went by, but not children were born to them. Now they were both old and it seemed too late.

Then, one day, in the heat of the day, Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent. He looked up and three men, stranger whom he did not know, were standing near him. He got up and ran to meet them. He greeted them with a deep bow. He offered the strangers generous and gracious hospitality. “Wash the dust from their feet,” he told some servants. “Come, rest under this tree,” he said to the strangers. “Stay for a meal.” Abraham offered them a generous meal of bread and cheese and meat.

Before the strangers left, they gave Abraham a promise. “Within the year, your wife will give birth to a son.” Sarah laughed when she overheard it. Given her age, the promise seemed impossible. But, the impossible happened. Within the year, Isaac was born. Abraham and Sarah, as good as dead, welcomed the future that God had made possible. (Genesis 17.23-18.6)

Isaac was the father of Jacob who had twelve sone, whose children become the twelve tribes of Israel. One of the children of one of those twelve tribes was Jesus of Nazareth. He became part of a family with as many members as the stars in the sky, if you were able to count them.

Ever since Abraham and Sarah, we have been a people for whom offering hospitality to strangers has been a central practice. You never know what promise those strangers might bring. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” says our scripture, “for by doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Easter tells you, “The stranger you meet might even be something more than an angel. The stranger might be the risen Christ drawing near to you. This is what two disciples in today’s gospel story discovered.

It happened three days after Jesus had been crucified. They had lost all their hopes, all their dreams. It happened less than twelve hours after the first reports were coming in that Jesus had been raised from the dead — the first indications that the world they thought they knew was gone. Some new reality was taking its place.

They were confused and frightened and disoriented. So, they were leaving Jerusalem and all its uncertainty. They were heading home to Emmaus. Emmaus is the place you go to try to escape the changes you cannot control. It is the familiar place to which you retreat when you are trying to get your world back the way it was. It was on the road to Emmaus that a stranger joined these two disciples.

He asked questions. They poured out their anger and doubt and despair. He talked and told them the stories of their faith. He helped them find their place in the stories of God’s powerful new beginnings in the midst of impossibilities and hard endings.

They got to Emmaus around supper time. In keeping with their tradition, they offered the stranger the hospitality of a meal. When the stranger took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them, they realized that he was not a stranger at all. He was Jesus: risen from the dead; present with them; showing up unexpectedly and unrecognized.

It happens again and again in the Easter stories: Mary at the tomb, thinking Jesus was the gardener; the disciples fishing in Galilee when a stranger prepares breakfast on the beach.”

These stories of Jesus’ unexpected, surprising appearance are training you to see Jesus in your life. “Pay attention,” they say. “A risen Saviour is on the loose in your world. You never know when he will show up or how — but it will be in places you do not expect him. He won’t look anything like what you think a saviour should look like. Stay alert.”

 

A young advertising executive with a bright, promising career, volunteered every Tuesday evening at his church’s foot clinic for homeless people. People who lived on the streets would come to the church’s building. This man, along with other volunteers, would care for their feet. He would sit in front of a guest, take his or her feet in his hands, put them in a basin of warm water, and wash them. He would take a towel and dry them. He would take some ointment and apply it to the sores. The ritual ended with each guest receiving the gift of a clean white pair of socks. Then, he would move to the next guest. One evening, the advertising executive’s minister watched him and asked, “Why do you come here each week?” The man replied, “I figure I have a better chance of running into Jesus here than most places.”
The minister watched him week after week. At some point, she realized she was developing what she called ‘double vision’. “I was seeing Christ in the strangers that he served. I was also seeing Christ in that young man as he was finding deep meaning in his life through serving others.”  (Joanna Adams, Day 1, 2005)

 

Where do you go to develop ‘double vision’? Where are you training yourself to see Christ when he shows up in expected places, among unexpected people? The risen Christ is loose in your world. He can and does show up anywhere. Do you see him? do you recognize that it is the Lord?”

There is always a sense of mystery to that encounter. It is not something you control. It is not something you manage. There is no magic formula. There are no ‘five guaranteed steps to an encounter with the risen Christ”. However, you can practise hosting the mystery. You can offer hospitality to strangers. You can let yourself be open to people who are not like you.

It is not easy to do. Our culture trains us to be wary of strangers. They might be a threat to you. It is not easy to welcome strangers. if you let them get near you — if you offer them hospitality in your heart — you will be changed. You will see the world in new ways — ways that might not be comfortable.

Followers of Jesus who are on the look-out for the risen Christ, need some counter-cultural training. We need practice at welcoming the one who is different, alien. Thank God, Jesus invites us to the table. Here, we encounter strangers who are also brothers and sisters in Christ. Here, we encounter the risen Christ who is so different from what we are looking for that we will not recognize him at first. Here, he takes, blesses, breaks and give. Then, we realize God is present, inviting us to enter into God’s resurrection reality. Here, our impossibilities become God’s new future. Here, you will be changed.

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A prayer for Reign of Christ Sunday based on Luke 23: 33-43.

Creative, life-giving God,

you speak,

you say, ‘Let there be . . .’

and the forces of life

move with transforming power.

You love,

you love with a costly love,

surrendering self for others,

and evil and death

lose their power.

You forgive

you forgive our ignorance

our blindness

our willfulness

our selfishness,

opening space for your Spirit’s creative work.

Jesus,

remember us.

By your mercy,

heal the wounds we inflict on each other.

Bring us into your presence

and teach us to love with a love like unto your own.

We weep and cry to you –

you whose power for life moves through suffering,

stronger than the power of death:

we pray for the people of the Philippines,

for those who are without homes, clean water, food.

We pray for our own country,

scandalized by the misuse of power

by those who were entrusted with leading us.

We pray for this congregation,

for those who weep within it,

for those who seek to lead it,

for those who look for your Holy Spirit’s hope.

Let your love and power and forgiveness

shape our love, our power, our life together.

Lord Jesus,

Lord of compassion and mercy and grace,

remember those for whom we have special concern this day.

Come among us,

crucified and risen Lord:

let your will be done,

your Spirit move among us;

let your costly, life-giving love reign

and bring us into your glory with you.

Amen.

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A prayer of confession for Thanksgiving Sunday, October 13, 2013, based on Luke 17: 11-19. With thanks to Kayla McClurg and her reflections on that scripture.

At the heart of the universe,

at the heart of our lives

are your mercy and your grace, O God of unfailing love.

You work without ceasing to reconcile all things.

You work without ceasing to make all things new.

 

We confess that too often

we miss seeing and hearing the signs of your presence.

We do not recognize your transforming power.

Your Spirit heals our brokenness,

Your Spirit brings new life,

Your Spirit works a new creation

but we continue on our way,

unaware,

uncomprehending,

ungrateful.

Turn us around, Lord,

Turn us toward you, Jesus,

as you turn toward us in mercy.

 

Heal our blindness;

overcome the fear that binds our hearts;

raise us to your new life

here and now.

 

Then, let your Spirit carry our thanks

to your throne of grace.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you. Amen.

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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia, Ontario on August 11, 2013.

Scriptures: Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16 , Luke 12: 32 -40

The letter to the Hebrews is written to a church community that is in trouble. To be fair, most of the New Testament is made up of letters to churches that are in trouble; churches that are barely holding on.

There are no perfect churches. There are no churches that ‘have it all together’, where there are no problems. There are only groups of ordinary people who have been gathered together by the Holy Spirit. They find themselves on a journey with Jesus and most of the time they are not sure where they are going. Much of the time they are pretty sure that this journey is going to take a lot of faith — more faith than they can muster on their own.

“Faith,” says the letter to the Hebrews, ‘Is the assurance of things hoped for; faith is the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) In case that’s too vague, it goes on to say that faith is Noah building a boat to save his family from a flood even though there isn’t a cloud in the sky and all he has to go on is a word from God telling him he needed to do so.

Faith is Abraham at 70 years of age hearing God tell him to pack up his belongings and head out on a journey even though he didn’t know where he was going.

Faith, says Jesus, is being dressed, ready for God to show up at any time, surprising you with what he wants you to do. Faith is being open to receive God’s creativity into your life even when it comes in unexpected ways (Luke 12: 35 – 36).

People often talk about faith as if it were something they were trying to wrap their mind around: “I gave up faith when I studied science at university. Now I can’t believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection from the dead on Jesus walking on water.”  They think people who still have faith are like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. “One can’t believe impossible things,” said Alice. The Queen replies, “I dare say you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes, I believed as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast.” (Through the Looking Glass, chapter 5, Lewis Carroll)

Some people pit faith against doubt and thing that they have to wrestle their doubts to the ground before they can have faith. That’s not what the Bible does. In the Bible, the opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is fear. The opposite of faith is being afraid of what life might bring you; being afraid of what God might ask of you.

The really critical question of your life is not, “Can you believe?” The really critical question is, “Will you trust? Will you trust God with your life?”

Have you noticed how often the Bible says, “Don’t be afraid?”

“Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” say the angels to the shepherds as they announce Jesus’ birth (Luke 2: 10 ).

“Don’t be afraid”, says Jesus, ‘It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  (Luke 12:32)
“Don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows.  (Luke 12:7)

“Don’t be afraid,” say the angel to the women at the empty tomb. “the one whom the world crucified has been raised by the power of God.” (Matthew 28:5)
“Don’t be afraid,” says the risen Christ to the his disciples before he sends them out to be in witnesses in the world.

“Don’t be afraid”.

God promises joy and peace and steadfast love and faithfulness.
God promises to lead you home and to a place of rest and to a city where love rules and life flows to all people and you shall see God face to face.
God promises that nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from his love.
God promises that God will never leave you or forsake you.

However, the truth is that, for much of the journey, we travel by faith and not by sight. We hold only promises that are about things that are not clearly evident. Partly that is because we are dealing with great mysteries — large realities that cannot be seen and touched and measured. Partly it is because God’s ways are not our ways and some of God’s ways confront us with difficult and painful truths. They disrupt the plans we had for our lives.

Jesus said, “God can be like a thief in the night. (Luke 12: 39 -40) It is not a particularly flattering picture of God, but that is what faith can feel like sometimes. In order to follow Jesus, you have to leave somethings behind. Sometimes, what you have to leave behind is the safety of the careful plans you had made for yourself.

Some people find faith hard because, at some level, they know it is risky. They have been wounded in the past, or they are afraid of being wounded. They decide it is safer not to trust anyone, not even God, especially a God they cannot control; especially a God who often works in hidden ways; especially a God who might take you on a journey and you will have no idea where you are going. They choose not to venture any further into faith.

You can do it: you can life you life operating more out of fear than out of faith. But know this: fear will make your life small. Fear can take over and paralyze you. It will keep you from opening your heart to others. it will keep you from opening your life to God’s grace. Invite it into you heart and it will threaten your soul and control what you do. Fear steals the kingdom from you — the reign of blessing and love that God wants to give to you.

Somebody said, “Faith does not mean that you have no fear. Faith gives you the courage to walk through the fear.” (Joanna Adams,   “Faith and Fear”, Journal for Preachers 19 no 4 Pentecost 1996, p. 25-29)

Faith is trusting God to walk with you through your fear and to get you home.

There was an evening when Jesus gathered his disciples together in the upper room of a friend’s house. He knew that they were about to head into an unknown future full of danger and fear. He said to them, “Don’t be afraid. In my Father’s house there are many rooms and I am going to prepare a place for you. You know the way to where I am going. “ One of his disciples said, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”   Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.”  (John 14: 1-6)

Stanley Jones was, for many years, a missionary in Africa. He loved to tell the story of the time he got lost in the jungle. He wandered around for a while and did not see any familiar landmarks. At last he came upon a small settlement of huts. He asked if someone could show him the way home. “Follow me,” one of the villagers said and set off. As he hacked their way through the jungle, Jones became worried. They didn’t seem to be on any path. “Are you sure this is the way?” he asked. “Where is the path?”  The man turned around and said, “Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path.”  (“Proclaiming the Gospel on Mars Hill,” Michael Rogness, Word and World, June 1, 2007, p. 275)

There are no perfect churches. There are only communities of people who have been gathered together by the Holy Spirit who find themselves on a journey with Jesus toward God’s reign of love. Most of the time, you are not sure where you are going. Much of the time you are pretty sure the journey is going to take a lot more faith than you have on your own.

“Don’t be afraid,” says Jesus. “I am the Way. I am the Truth. I am the Life. I will lead you home.”

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A reflection on Galatians 5: 1, 13 -25 and Luke 9:51-62

 

“For freedom, Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not submit yourselves again to the yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

Many people lead very busy lives. How often do you feel driven by a sense of having too many things to do and having too little time to do them in? Do you feel pulled between what you have to do and what you should do and what you want to do? Faced with unlimited options, do you feel tangled in a web of duties, obligations, commitments and desires?

If finding some balance were simply a matter of choosing the important things and leaving some unimportant things undone, most of us could manage that. However, life is often not that clearcut. So often the choices are not between the important and the trivial; between something that must be attended to and something that can be left for another time. You get caught between too many important duties and obligations and commitments, all of which have merit and legitimate claims upon your attention.

In Pastor, William Willimon tells of leading Bible study on temptation. He was trying to relate the topic to the lives of those who were participating. One man burst out, “I’ll tell you what temptation is. Temptation is when your boss calls you in, as mine did just yesterday and say, “I’m going to give you a real opportunity. I’m going to give you a bigger sales territory. We believe that you are going places young man.”
“But I don’t want a bigger sales territory,” I told him. I’m already away from home four nights a week. It wouldn’t be fair to my wife and daughter.”
“Look, we’re asking you to do this for your wife and daughter. Don’t you want to be a good father? It takes money to support a family these days. Sure, your little girl doesn’t take much money now, but think of the future. I’m only asking you to do this for them.”

Whether you believe the boss or not when s/he says, “We’re only asking you to do this for them,” you can get caught between wanting to do what’s best for your family and wanting to do well in your job and doing your part in serving the community and supporting your faith community. How do you live in such a way that doesn’t leave your soul withered, your strength depleted, your mind spinning? What does it take to ‘hold firm’ to the freedom and  joy which Christ has won for us?

In today’s gospel story, Jesus invites people to follow him and they respond with a litany of other commitments and important obligations: “Let me bury my father first.” “I need to say good-bye to my family first.”   Jesus doesn’t flinch: “Let the dead bury the dead. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent. Announce God’s Kingdom.” “No procrastinating, no backward looks. You can’t put off the Kingdom till tomorrow. Seize the day!” (Luke 9: 60, 62, The Message)

These were not trivial excuses that these people were making. They were not asking for leave to go to one last party before they gave up ‘the good life’ and started taking religion seriously.  They were responsible people, trying to juggle family, job, and Jesus’ call. Yet, even to them, Jesus is unyielding: even of them Jesus demands that they put him as the priority over every other claim in their lives. Why? Why should he be so adamant and firm? He is adamant and firm because what is at stake is freedom, joy, and peace. Those can be found only when you live out of God’s choices for your life, not out of your own. And, you can only know what God’s choice, God’s agenda is, when you spend time with God.

You keep free, says Paul to the Galatians, when you let your life be grasped by God. You hold onto Christ’s freedom not by knowing which choices to make but by knowing yourself chosen by God. There is a story about Mother Teresa speaking with a young man who had joined her order. He had been complaining that his superior was insisting that he spend more time in prayer. It was keeping him from the lepers whom he had been called to serve. She told him, “Your call is not to serve lepers. Your call is to belong to Jesus”.

The most important choice in your life has already been made. God has chosen you. God is active in your life. God longs to have love and joy and freedom permeate your living. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control are fruit of the Spirit — the outgrowth of letting God’s Spirit dwell more and more deeply in your heart and mind and life. In the midst of all your important obligations and valuable commitments, take time to be known by God, to belong to Jesus. Let God lead you into the wide open spaces of salvation. Let Jesus teach you the ‘unforced rhythms of grace‘.  ‘For freedom, Christ has set you free’.

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