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  • Home by another way
    donkey his own also packed with food What did you hear blurted Achmed Pray tell said Samir Are the Romans on the rampage he laughed Don t laugh too soon Rumours are flying Herod s guards have torn up Bethlehem They say children are dying By the King s sword Iman s face was pale Come now said Samir There are always rumours about how crazy Herod is Town gossip that s all Are we to risk the desert by night for gossip asked Achmed Herod s servants were kind to us when stopped at court to seek directions Why do we flee by night It is not gossip There are soldiers on the road to Samaria and to Jericho They are looking for the magi We must go home by another way across the mountains and the desert Iman explained His voice was tight with tension Looking for the magi Achmed was astonished They are royal priests Soliders cannot stop the magi Samir shook his head What do we know about these magi Perhaps they have stolen jewels from Herod Perhaps the soldiers will hunt us too Suddenly out of the darkness a woman appeared clasping a bundle to her shoulder Please Help me she cried The soldiers tried to take my son The bundle on her shoulder began to cry as the woman sank to the sand in fear and exhaustion Iman said to Achmed Fetch Caspar Samir turned to the woman What you say is a terrible thing Why would soldiers take your child Have you stolen this baby in the market No No Haven t you heard Soldiers took all the small boys in Bethlehem away two days ago Yesterday they were hunting babies in Jerusalem I ran with my son but I can run no further Her hands trembled as she tried to rock her whimpering child Iman s eyes widened Bethlehem We visited the infant king only days ago in Bethlehem Surely the soldiers would not harm the infant Jesus He raised his eyes to the night sky where the evening stars had begun to twinkle Just then Caspar appeared from his tent Achmed at his heels He addressed the woman What help can we give you We leave this night over the mountains It is not safe here for you or for us Please take my son with you Or else the soldiers will kill him Take him north to Damascus My brother is there He will keep him Or take the child to your home wherever you go Only let him live for the sake of the Holy One You ask a great deal of us magi of the night skies royal priests of God s wisdom What do we know of a child Caspar looked stern But what is wisdom if it will not save an innocent life she pleaded I have other children my daughters who need me But please let this little one live He is my only son

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2011archive/72-home-by-another-way (2016-02-13)
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  • Wrapped in Delight
    Christ to remind us of people who make us feel badly about ourselves No that s not his purpose But Matthew does tell this story in a unique way Of the four gospel writers Matthew is the only one who highlights John the Baptist s reluctance to baptize Jesus Interpreters of this story think that Matthew himself had a problem with Jesus baptism After all if John had been calling people to repent of their sins to change their ways and clean up their lives if his baptism was to mark a cleansing from human failing why did Jesus need to be baptized Jesus was God s Beloved God s Son God s chosen one He didn t need to clean up his act So why did Jesus submit to John s baptism You see when Matthew looks at Jesus he does not just recognize his own shortcomings in comparison No Matthew also sees the inadequacies of all humankind all our failings all our unworthiness in contrast to Jesus true love and mercy For Matthew the question percolating in this story is why had Jesus to be baptized at all He s in a league of his own But therein lies the point of the story for all of us Jesus asks to be baptized by John to show us he s not in a league of his own He s in league with us When he sinks into the cold muddy waters of the river Jordan Jesus sinks in solidarity with our inadequacies with our less than perfect test scores with our broken New Year s resolutions that we couldn t even keep for a week Jesus joins us in the troubled water of our worry about our own unworthiness he steeps himself in our tendency to feel judged by others when no one has said a word Jesus takes on our true failings and our imagined ones in order to rise to claim his God given identity and ours And that identity is proclaimed in the words of Isaiah from chapter 42 Here is my servant whom I uphold my chosen in whom my soul delights Now English translations of Matthew s story always choose a more sensible translation This is my Son with whom I am well pleased Well pleased happy but not over the top But truly the sense in the original Greek is that God is delighted to claim Jesus as Beloved as God s child blessed with promise purpose And part of that promise and that purpose with which Jesus is anointed is to wrap us in God s delight In his baptism Jesus shows his solidarity with us by joining us in the muddy waters of human life In our baptism he raises us up to the promise purpose God holds in store for all God s children When we put on Christ in baptism we are wrapped in God s delight God calls us beloved too It occurred to me this week

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2011archive/73-wrapped-in-delight (2016-02-13)
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  • Staying Power
    Simon back to introduce him to Jesus And the rest is history Jesus claps his eyes on Simon and gives him a new name Peter the one we ll follow to the cross to Jesus grave on Easter morning and then onward through the beginnings of the Church of which we are still a part Yes we all know something of Peter Yet think about Andrew He met Jesus first He s the one with staying power But his new friend Jesus greets his brother like he was born to become Pope or something I don t know about you but if a new friend of mine showed that kind of special interest in my sister we wouldn t be friends much longer Yet Andrew doesn t give up on Jesus even when he doesn t attract the limelight Andrew and his companion Philip keep showing up as friends and followers of Jesus They introduce more and more people to Jesus The bond they shared with Jesus was so strong that they keep following even when they re not sure what they should be doing even when they don t get the leadership roles even when the going gets tough In some ways Andrew and his hometown pal Philip represent us in the Gospel stories They are not the most famous disciples they don t star in very many stories And yet they are there with him with Jesus because in this very first story of discipleship they stay with him And that s a key to discipleship for all of us To have staying power To keep showing up To keep asking questions about what it all means To keep listening for Jesus truth and wisdom To keep inviting our friends to show up with us Perhaps that s St Andrew s challenge to us to keep inviting our friends to risk an encounter with Jesus because we know it will be worthwhile if we hang in there if we have staying power But I have to say staying power is counter cultural these days People like instant results Our needs should be met the first time we go somewhere We look for things that suit our tastes We expect the best price the best service or we ll shop somewhere else next time We tend to judge a church community and its gifts the same way we judge a supermarket or a restaurant Our first visit seals our opinions Personal satisfaction is what ensures we ll return Yet I wonder how many of our friendships our enduring supportive enriching friendships were quick fixes I know that my relationships with my best friends have grown over years And my most enduring friendships have had to withstand distances differences disagreements But my most important friends have staying power We don t let temporary troubles eat away at our connections We won t throw all we ve invested in each other away when a few things shift And there s the

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2011archive/76-staying-power (2016-02-13)
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  • Party Animals?
    personal loyalty to their favourite leader Paul scolds them for such party loyalty Our loyalty is owed to Jesus Christ and to no one else No matter who brought us into Christian fellowship or how our journey in faith began we belong to Christ Paul begs the Christians at Corinth to be united in the same mind and purpose they found in Christ and to surrender their competing local loyalties Now I know it seems like a bit of leap to move from divisive support for a dictator like Baby Doc Duvalier to the squabbles and loyalties within a church but these are expressions of the same human temptation We like our opinions to have sway We like to be on the winning side It is so much easier to have our interest group triumph than it is maintain fellowship with those with whom we disagree and find ways to work together for the common good despite our differences The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is drawing to a close yet Christians worldwide seem not much closer to unity now than we did a century ago when the Week of Prayer began I think St Paul would find that a sadness And so must Jesus Christians do not seem to find unity in Christ Instead we cling to major points of difference about what to believe and how to behave with a kind of righteousness about our rightness We sound a lot like those Christians in Corinth Mind you even Jesus faced party animals in his day Last week we heard about Andrew who started out as a disciple of John the Baptist not Jesus John s disciples often didn t know what to make of Jesus And so history tells us that John s disciples maintained their loyalty to him long after John was executed long after Jesus was crucified too That s why the gospel writers are careful to clarify the relationship between John and Jesus So it s interesting that today s story begins at the moment when John the Baptist was arrested At that point Jesus could begin his work once John was off the scene So Jesus went back to Galilee his home province in the north withdrawing from Jerusalem that hotbed of religious political loyalties in the south He went to Capernaum which just happens to be in the old provinces of Zebulun and Naphtali those small throw away territories that had been handed to Assyrian rule centuries earlier Jesus went back to the land that had known deep darkness to settle in a town that apparently had no defensive wall to begin his light bearing ministry proclaiming the kingdom of heaven Without a defensive wall the town of Capernaum symbolizes a kind of open spirit a place where new things can begin where new light shines And so in Capernaum Jesus called his first disciples to leave their father Zebedee and their inherited roles as fishermen to walk a new way with

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2011archive/79-party-animals (2016-02-13)
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  • Could it be that simple?
    see Every relationship with every one of God s creatures along that vast horizon is intended to be true just upright and balanced not in our favour but in harmony with God s intention for each precious piece of creation It s not that complicated But it will always be a challenge What about loving kindness Surely kindness offers a less daunting measure of what God expects Kindness is something we can offer every day of the week A friendly word to a store clerk who s having a bad day We can manage that even when service wasn t that great Kindness A few minutes spent with a friend who needs a listening ear We can manage that even when we keep checking our watch anxious to get on with our day Kindness The volunteer hours the spare dollars offered for a good cause We can manage that even though we re glad for the income tax receipt for some of those contributions I am sure I know I am We can manage kindness And we do over and over again But just like our definitions of justice can become too narrow so too our sense of kindness can be limited to situations where we feel kind and generous to those relationships where goodness flows easily I was reminded this week that the Biblical word translated in Micah as kindness is more accurately translated mercy It carries the quality of forgiveness and compassion foregoing our own wounded pride in order to repair the situation of someone else not only the person in obvious need but also the one who gets under our skin to whom we don t feel kindly This merciful loving kindness beats at the heart of God s hope for all our relationships with each other Again we don t get to choose who deserves our kindness This loving kindness is to be our stance toward the whole world So it s not that complicated because Micah doesn t offer us room to make exceptions It is that simple but it s not that easy to live with loving kindness toward all God s creatures Perhaps that s why Micah s third requirement is that we walk humbly with our God For who among us here even as law abiding fair minded citizens generous and kind as we so often are who among us will not be convicted by our own conscience of falling short of God s requirements We are not in right relationship with everyone in our community let alone the community of God s creation We are not consistently merciful for we cherish resentments and withhold mercy often to our own detriment So when we come before God we must come humbly We must acknowledge relationships in need of repair We must admit how we have made too much of our own interests and neglected situations where a little more justice and kindness on our part would help the well being of others

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2011archive/81-could-it-be-that-simple (2016-02-13)
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  • Come and See
    John had baptized them they had joined his call to repentance Who was this Jesus So they tag after Jesus one day He asks them What are you looking for Oh my Imagine being put on the spot like that They hedge Where are you staying they blurt out Come and see It s Jesus invitation If we are looking for God s word if we want to know God s truth If we want to understand what Jesus is all about we have to come and see We have to risk encountering Jesus up close and personal And that s what Andrew and Phillip do They go and stay with Jesus Scholars argue that this is really the point of these early stories in John s Gospel John is presenting Jesus as the One in whom we ll meet God s truth Forget John the Baptist Follow Jesus These scholars figure that in certain areas John the Baptist remained a hero A martyr with a following even after Jesus resurrection So John the Evangelist is speaking to these people arguing that their beloved John the Baptist recognized Jesus as God s truth They should get with the program Now this isn t our issue today We re not worried about John the Baptist picking up members from St John s But we are worried by friends who can t make sense of Jesus who use the contradictions in Scripture as arguments against faith in God We are also challenged by neighbours who have decided that their private opinions about Jesus are God s truth They ll argue with us and call us unbelievers because we don t share their opinions I don t know if you ve met such people but I certainly have How does the Gospel of John speak to us in our predicament Come and see That invitation echoes in our ears week after week Jesus words call us to gather in worship to listen for God s word and to keep clarifying with each other what God is truly saying to us We gather so that we can be challenged on what we ve always thought was true or what we ve read on the internet There is a lot of misinterpretation out there So Presbyterians shape our worship around God s Word Scripture was not intended for private interpretation Private devotion emerged only after the printing press was invented in 1439 Scripture was intended to be read and interpreted publicly prayerfully when God s people gathered in worship So our worship focused on the Scriptures sinks its roots deep into the long traditions of God s people Jews gathered in their synagogues week by week to read God s Word from the scrolls of the Law the Prophets to pray over it and hear it interpreted by their rabbis When they left the synagogue they had a sense of walking with the text living out the next generation of interpretation The earliest Christians maintained

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2011archive/82-come-and-see (2016-02-13)
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  • Love's Choices
    of marriage vows Lust turns someone else into a delicious object forgetting the complexities of relationships responsibilities Still these days if Jesus stands against lust desire he s not making himself all that attractive is he Nevertheless whatever our marital status or the state of our love lives we have to take Jesus seriously here because we know that inappropriate sexual cravings have led to scandal in the Church worldwide not just through adultery but through sexual abuse harassment too And these are not just problems for celibate clergy Our own denomination has had to develop policy procedure to deal with leaders who have caused tremendous hurt by using people they were supposed to be serving in Jesus name Yet you would think if we took Jesus at his word in Matthew s Gospel a church wouldn t need such policy But sadly we do Because all too often we are prone to indulge our desires and use other people to satisfy ourselves and our longings And this is something Jesus won t stand for He expects us to go beyond the narrow requirements of the law and choose to limit our own appetites for the sake of God s love So loving Jesus will face us with hard choices whether it s anger adultery or some other self indulgence brewing in our hearts Now it saddens me to tell you that over the course of my ministry thirty years spent in other provinces and presbyteries I have had occasion to be part of church proceedings which called ministers elders to account for indulging their anger or their lust These are never easy proceedings For when faced with the discipline of the Church most individuals make excuses for their behaviour rather than recognize the harm they ve caused They appeal for understanding rather than admit wrongdoing Yet in such moments when we would like to excuse our instincts for anger or lust we should not expect Jesus to let us off the hook Because Jesus expects us to make the choices that love of God neighbour require of us Jesus expects that we will not indulge our own hearts at the expense of the well being of someone else And he s not about to let us argue our case and slip through a loophole in God s law because we haven t committed the worst possible sin The law of love has no loopholes And that makes Jesus a pretty hard guy to love Because let s face it we love loopholes Think about it Remember back when we were kids and we made a promise to a friend Cross my heart and hope to die we d say as if that little gesture making a cross over our hearts guaranteed our commitment to keep our promise But as I recall even as I crossed my heart with one hand I might cross my fingers with the other hand behind my back of course Crossing your fingers meant the

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2011archive/86-loves-choices (2016-02-13)
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  • Two Wrongs don't make a right
    opponent to smithereens Children are not the only ones who react retaliate when they feel injured or hard done by Think about the violence which stalks the world these days when street gangs and Mafioso families escalate feuds into bloody confrontations on Canadian streets Think about international relations when a military exercise off the coast of Taiwan or South Korea say sets sabres rattling in China or North Korea Human beings are driven by a deep deep need to even the score and then some so that our honour will remain intact and our pride unscathed So is Jesus barking up the wrong tree when he says Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you Isn t that just too much to expect Well if we look back at Leviticus remembering that Jesus had its model of conduct in mind we can be reassured that love for neighbour does not mean that an offender gets away scot free Leviticus announces that you shall reprove your neighbour correct the person who offends neighbour love There are consequences to unjust acts And so we call each other to account on the principle that we love our neighbours as we do ourselves and our own family Neighbour love is expressed through fair treatment no taking advantage playing no favourites and through active concern for the vulnerable the poor the hungry and the wandering stranger Leviticus is called the holiness code because it invites God s people to live out the holy goodness of God Still hundreds of years later Jesus could see people had forgotten the best aspirations of God s law And so he called them calls us to love our enemies not just our neighbours because otherwise we re no different than people we despise or resent This week s teaching from Leviticus and Jesus provocative preaching on the Mount intend to show us how to live out our faith and hope in God in relationship to each other These teachings are all about relationships They remind us we can always be truer to our faith hope than our instinctive reactions propose Working on these passages this week reminded me of a Presbyterian prison chaplain I met thirty years ago This fellow worked in a provincial jail in Ontario I remember a speech he gave encouraging his fellow ministers to recognize that his parishioners in custody were not so very different than our church members He told a story about a young inmate who gave him quite a hard time about religious mumbo jumbo until the chaplain challenged him with the question Well then what do you want from me The young man said very simply Teach us how to have good relationships Teach us how to have good relationships Friends if we were going to sum up the ethics of the Gospel in a single sentence we couldn t do better than that Good Lord teach us how to have good relationships From the pouty little girl fighting

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2011archive/87-two-wrongs-dont-make-a-right (2016-02-13)
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