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Posts Tagged ‘presence of God’

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

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

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

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

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

We wait.

We listen.

We watch.

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

 

Assurance of God’s Grace

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

We and our world belong to him

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

Be assured that God’s grace

is at work in your life

overcoming everything that separates you from God,

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

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Yearnings

God of heaven,
Creator of earth,
we confess before you
the yearnings that haunt us
deep in our hearts:
yearnings that we cannot name clearly;
yearnings that we cover over with much busyness;
yearnings that we try to satisfy with lesser gods;

yet, yearnings that will not let us go;
that keep drawing us toward you.

With the prophet,
we cry out,
“O, that you might rip open the heavens
and descend upon us,
making the mountains quake at your presence.”

Purify our hearts,
open our eyes,
renew our minds
so that
we may recognize you
when you come to us
in unexpected ways,
in circumstances that unsettle and trouble us.

We ask you to send your Spirit upon us
and in our midst
that we may have
the freedom and courage
to welcome you
and to live in joyful service
to the One whom you call
“My Beloved, my Chosen One”.
It is in his name we pray.

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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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“Blessings along the Way: Heaven”

A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett at Central United Church, Sarnia, Ontario on September 23, 2012. 

Scriptures: 2 Corinthians 5: 14-21John 3: 1-16

What  comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘heaven’? What is ‘heaven’ like? Where is ‘heaven’? Do you remember when people used to talk of heaven as being above us and hell as being beneath the earth somewhere?

Some of our ideas about heaven come from hymns or popular songs:

“Do Lord, O do Lord, O do remember me. . . I’ve got a home in glory land that outshines the sun . . . way beyond the blue”. Heaven is out ahead of us, ‘way beyond the blue’. We are on a journey towards it in time. It is a place we go to when we die.

Think of the songs “Some glad morning, when my life is o’er, I’ll fly away . . .”  and “When the roll is called up yonder . . .” Heaven is some place to fly up to at the end of life.

Ideas about heaven, and the metaphors people use to talk about it, shift over time. When you are in the gospel of John, heaven is not up ahead of you. It is not a place you will reach some time in the future. It is not a place above the earth where God lives, looking down upon the earth. In John’s gospel, heaven is not some place that we go to at all. In John’s gospel, heaven comes to us. Heaven is coming toward us from the future that God has already prepared.  (Tom Long, “Heaven Comes to Us,” The Christian Century, April 25, 2011)

In that future, the powers of death and the forces of evil have been destroyed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. There is no more death, no more suffering, no more sorrow “for the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21: 1-4). All creation flourishes, including human beings. Everyone experiences the glory of God in all its fullness. However, that future is not just in ‘the world to come’ — in the future. It is already breaking in to this world, here and now. We don’t go to heaven; heaven comes toward us in the world; the ‘age to come’ moves towards us in this age.

Usually, we do not perceive it, but this ‘world to come’, this ‘life of the eternal age’ (John 3:16) is present already in this world that is passing away. Even though we do not usually perceive its presence, we do sometimes get a glimpse of it. In this morning’s gospel story, a man named Nicodemus perceived the presence of God’s future in Jesus of Nazareth.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He was a religion scholar of the Jewish scriptures, the Torah. The Pharisees often studied the Torah at night when there were fewer distractions than in the day. One night, instead of studying the Torah and seeking God there, Nicodemus sought out Jesus (Patricia Farris,Late Night Seminar”). “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know you are a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.” (The Message)

Jesus had been performing miracles and Nicodemus had seen in them signs of God’s future breaking in to this world. He wanted to know more. Jesus said, “You can’t know more unless you’re born from above.” Nicodemus replies, “That’s crazy talk, Jesus. I have no idea what you’re saying.”

It is rather reassuring, isn’t it? Here is a Bible expert, someone who is a leader in the religious community, and he does not get what Jesus is talking about. Sometimes it is nice to know that you’re in good company when you’re confused by what Jesus says. Someone once said, “If, when you’re reading the Bible, you’re not confused at least half the time, then you’re simply not paying attention.”

Jesus says, “There are two worlds — two creations. There is this world into which you were born the first time. This is the world you see and hear and smell and touch and taste. It is the world where you live and walk, where you work and party, where you raise your children and grow old and die. There is another world as well — a new creation that God is making. God is alive and active in the world, invading this world with God’s love and mercy and grace. God is making God’s future present here and now. You need a different set of senses to perceive it. These are senses that the Holy Spirit of God gives you as you let God’s Spirit into your life.

Jesus asked Nicodemus to open his eyes and heart to another dimension, another creation, that was hovering just beyond sight, just beyond hearing. Nicodemus was still confused and asked, “How can this be?” Sometimes we are ready to see God’s new creation breaking in to this world. Sometimes we are not. Still, it is there waiting for us to wake up to God’s actions in our lives and to enter into them. When we do, our life is never the same again.

Jesus says, “You don’t get to know God’s new creation the way you usually get to know the old creation.”  When you want to know something about this world, you gather information about it. If you want to know about a chair, you look at it. You touch it. You sit on it. You lift it. You may go to the internet and research about chairs: how they’re made, how styles change over the years, what makes for a good chair when you are sitting at a desk for long periods of time. You can become an expert on chairs.

However, you cannot know God’s new creation by gathering information about it. You know, perceive, and become aware of, God’s new creation by entering into it. You get to know who God is and what God is doing in the world the way you get to know another person. Gathering information about that person will only take you so far. You get to know another person by participating in a relationship with him or her. You talk together, both listening and speaking. You risk a bit of yourself to that person, letting them know what is important to you, what has hurt you, what gives you joy. You both give and take. You makes mistakes. You forgive and are forgiven. The more you trust them, the better you get to know them. You enter more deeply into their life. The longer you stick with the relationship, the more your life is shaped by them.

It is the same with God. In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God is active in the world, shaping a new creation in our midst, but you cannot perceive it from the outside. If you want to see, hear, taste, touch the presence of God, you have to risk yourself. You have to commit yourself. It is not just a matter of letting God into your life. It is also a matter of allowing God’s Holy Spirit pull you, push you, steer you, propel you, into God’s life. You allow yourself to get caught up in whatever it is that God is up to.

It can be scary because ours is a wildly creative and uncontrollable God. Jesus says, “Come, follow me and you had better be ready for surprises because the Spirit blows where it will. You do not know where it comes from or where it is going. Just trust me: we’ll take you deeper and deeper into the love and the grace and the goodness of God.”

The Holy Spirit is present here, offering new life and hope to all. You don’t make only one decision to trust yourself to the Spirit of God. You make it each step along the way. you decide whether to trust Christ with the next challenge you face. You decide whether to take the next step deeper into the wild love of God.

“Come, follow me,” says Jesus. Will you risk it?

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Patrick Henry was an orator and politician in the United States in the 1700’s. I came across this quote attributed to him:

“I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and this is the Christian religion. If they had that, and I had not given them one shilling, they would have been rich, and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would have been poor.”

I have been wondering, “What is the one thing we want to pass along to our children and grandchildren?” What is the thing that, if they don’t have that, they will be poor?

If a congregation has lost its sense of purpose, will reflecting on this question point them towards an aspect of God’s mission for them?

What is the one thing that you want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?

The words “the Christian religion” come from a time when religion didn’t have such a negative connotation. However, I concur with Patrick Henry that without faith in the God who meets us in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, our children will go through their lives impoverished. Although such faith has not made my life easy, it has been an anchor that has held me fast in all that life has brought. It has taught me to value truth and courage and to try to live into those virtues. It has given me the presence of God through my darkest valleys, and assurance of that presence and God’s redeeming power whenever I have not been able to feel that presence. All these things I cherish for my children.

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