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  • The Wrong in Righteousness
    now plans to retire to Medicine Hat because Calgary has a Muslim mayor Now Mr Nenshi will have his work cut out for him in a complicated city like Calgary But surely we must allow him to rise or fall on his decisions and policies not on unexamined assumptions about his faith As far as I can find out Mr Nenshi is an Ismaili Muslim And in my experience of dialogue with Canadian Muslims Ismailis are deeply committed to understanding their neighbours and working with us Christians and Muslims have to work through our present tendency to caricature each other and really try to understand each other s faith hopes The health and safety of the world depends on our willingness to move past righteous posturing and truly learn how to be good neighbours The parable we read today is all about such posturing It portrays the wrong in righteousness the temptation to become so self assured about the rightness of our own position before God and the world that we stand in judgement on everybody else The Pharisee in the parable would have been part of a spiritual renewal movement in Jesus day Pharisees held themselves doubly accountable to the Law The law said share a portion of your earnings with God so Pharisees shared a full tithe at least ten percent of everything they had sometimes more The law encouraged fasting and prayer once a week as a faithful stance before God so Pharisees fasted two days a week You get the picture Pharisees wanted to set a good example to others so they were doubly faithful in their righteous practice But Jesus parable lifts up the temptation for doubly good people We can become so assured of our own goodness our own rightness and righteousness that we begin to look down on lesser mortals people like the tax collector who just can t cut the mustard the way we do We justify ourselves by our own good opinions of ourselves and dismiss others without regard to their circumstances or honest hopes Jesus sees through this veneer of self righteousness with a pretty scathing conclusion All those who exalt themselves will be humbled Gee Wouldn t I like to email that reminder to all those American candidates slinging mud at each other Jesus could teach them a thing or two Ah but there s the catch I can be hooked by my own self righteous attitude toward the mud slingers All of us humble pie Presbyterians could begin to pray God we thank you that we are not like those Pharisees standing in judgement on poor folk like the tax collectors Thank you we re not like those Republicans Democrats slinging mud at each other We are your nice mild mannered disciples Thank you for making us so humble and polite With such a prayer with such a self perception we slip into the very shoes we think we re resisting The wrong in righteousness can sneak into

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2010-archive/58-the-wrong-in-righteousness (2016-02-13)
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  • Three reasons to give
    the rich ruler he met in chapter 18 Jesus told that rich man to sell everything and follow him astonishing his disciples Jesus seemed to be raising the bar for the rich impossibly high So why just a few days later does Jesus greet this little rich chief tax collector like an old friend Jesus seems a little inconsistent here But then we remember all the stories Luke tells about Jesus spending time with tax collectors sinners Jesus didn t hesitate to receive the hospitality of these men who were regarded as collaborators with Rome So the way this story is told all the important conflicting themes in Jesus ministry suddenly converge in the character of Zaccheus And if we ve already come to the conclusion that the rich are out and marginalized are in we re challenged to think again The Gospel is not quite so straightforward in its judgements as we like to be This new reading of Zaccheus asks us to consider 3 possibilities to explain his generosity to the poor those he s cheated at work The first possibility is to argue that he s trying to win Jesus approval impress his guest and receive Jesus blessing Now this would be the weakest reading of the story but I think we can recognize this impulse as part of human nature People do give things away to friends to charity even to the church in order gain approval We might say to ourselves If I give generously God or my friends will surely bless me love me forgive me think well of me We give to get a result But this was one of Martin Luther s chief complaints against the church of his day He accused church leaders of currying favour with the rich to attract them to the church promising them eternal reward if they became benefactors So on Reformation Sunday Presbyterians have to shake our heads This is not our view of God We do not believe we buy our way into God s favour We don t give so that will God to save us That kind of thinking that reason to give makes a mockery of the Cross Zaccheus wasn t giving to impress Jesus and win his approval So what s another reason to give The second possibility is that Zaccheus acts with new generosity because Jesus has given him his approval Zaccheus repents of his former miserly hoarding and gives lots of his stuff away because he s so grateful to Jesus He wants to show Jesus his gratitude for God s mercy This is the most common reading of the story Many translations build this interpretation into their wording Both the NRSV and the New International translation probably the two most favoured translations in use right now spin out the story this way Lord Zaccheus says to Jesus I will give half my possessions to the poor I will repay anyone I ve defrauded four times what I took

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2010-archive/59-three-reasons-to-give (2016-02-13)
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  • Embracing Shalom
    work on this right relationship of loving our neighbours and through PWS D respond to emergencies conflict poverty and injustice We work to support people and communities in need with humanitarian assistance food water and shelter and development programs that improves the quality of daily life for vulnerable populations promotes self reliance and addresses the root causes of poverty and injustice that take away from the dignity of people made lovingly by and in the image of our Creator God During August I accompanied the Rev Dr Herb Gale the 136 th Moderator of our church on his international visit that included Guatemala One of the places we visited is a special school often referred to as the Dump School This is a program where I have been involved almost since its beginning in 1995 Faithful support from a handful of Presbyterian congregations since its inception has transformed the once small and drab school located in the garbage dump in the middle of the capital city into a thriving oasis of over 300 eager children who learn how to read and write and hope for a future where they can seek gainful employment other than scavenging in the landfill or entering a very short and often violent life of youth gangs From its humble beginnings where the administrator and teachers of the school had to beg parents to let their kids go to school rather than accompany them to pick through mounds of garbage for edibles and recyclables the families now recognize the value of this special school that values the dignity of each student and provides them with tools to seek a better future In the beginning it was our eventual hope that we would have some who would reach the sixth grade Since then we ve had dozens of grade 6 graduates who continue their education to eventually graduate from high school thanks to Presbyterians like you who ve supported scholarships for them One of these young people is Ana who graduated as a teacher two years ago She is now a 2 nd grade teacher in the same school where she went for six years and is now able to give back to the same institution that offered her an alternative to a bleak or violent future so common to many young people She thanks you for the blessing that she has received She has taken a gift and will now return it ten fold to other children SHALOM You have helped to make this possible B is the name of a 10 year old student in Afghanistan whose picture I shared during my presentation last evening She is the top student in her grade She explained that she was frustrated not being able to learn more as she did not have all the required books Today she has all the required texts and notebooks as a part of a program initiated by PWS D with a local partner agency B shares with joy her desire to

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2010-archive/61-embracing-shalom (2016-02-13)
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  • Who do you say that I am?
    he really is and who we really are However we answer his question Who do you say that I am maybe we have to live our answer in order to believe it After this Jesus went out and saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the tax booth and he said to him Follow me 28 And Levi got up left everything and followed him LK 5 27 28 A woman in the city who was a sinner having learned that Jesus was eating in the Pharisee s house brought an alabaster jar of ointment 38 She stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment Lk 7 37 38 These are not empty gestures They are costly acts in which people s lives are redirected reconnected redeemed that is to say these lives had their true worth restored That s part of Jesus attraction But right from the get go we know not everyone was so taken with Jesus Superstar My left foot Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question Who is this who is speaking blasphemies Who can forgive sins but God alone Lk 5 21 Even John the Baptist whom Luke considers Jesus own cousin wasn t too sure what to make of Jesus and his reputation his healing his teaching his confrontations with the powers that be The disciples of John reported all these things to him when he was in jail So John sent two of his disciples 19 to the Lord to ask Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another Lk 7 18 19 The local Roman governor didn t want to wait for his answer Herod got rid of John the Baptist who was just a bit too critical of Herod s shenanigans So Herod cut off his head But then Herod didn t know what to make of this Jesus fellow who seemed even more challenging Herod said John I beheaded but who is this about whom I hear such things And he tried to see Jesus Lk 9 9 Jesus Christ Superstar explores all these angles on Jesus what his friends thought how his enemies fretted and schemed how those who loved him deeply still struggled to understand Jesus vision his mission These are our struggles too Jesus can be so appealing so comforting so full of hope that we are drawn in he can also be so demanding so totally committed so outside the box that we draw back Like this lawyer we d like a clear answer to our questions about him J ust then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus Teacher he said what must I do to inherit eternal life Lk 10 25 And we d like the answer in 25 words or less thank you very much Jesus

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  • In Him
    life death the mystery of his resurrection as St Paul preached it but the Colossians gathered every week without a copy of the Christmas stories we love without a collection of parables to reflect on without accounts of his friendships to inspire them Still the Colossians put their faith in him Those early Christians in Colossae lived in him in Christ because they had a vision of Jesus significance for every created thing from the tiniest earthbound creature to the most glorious stars glittering in heaven s vast reaches To live in him in Christ was to catch this immense vision of how we mere mortals fit into God s great scheme of things To live in him in Christ was to sense the promise of peace reconciliation God set in motion when Jesus was born as we are when Jesus died as we do and when Jesus was raised firstborn of creation firstborn from the dead to initiate a new creation in which we will share if we can catch this vision too St Paul put it so simply for the Colossians In him in Christ all things hold together The Colossians had to commit to this vision of how Christ held all things together during a time of great upheaval only 25 or 30 years after Jesus lived and died The Colossians had to take this promise on faith for they were persecuted people subject to arrest humiliation by Roman authorities They couldn t see what would become of this movement which we now call The Church They had to live through uncertain discouraging times believing all things would hold together in Christ despite their fear They had to live believing that in him in Christ all things would hold together despite pain persecution And we are here today because they held this vision In Christ all things will hold together against all odds the odds St Paul faced as he wrote to them from his prison cell in Rome In Christ all things hold together It is this vision we are invited to hold against all the odds we face as individuals as a church It is a big vision It is a vision of the fullness of God embracing us in him in Christ JB Phillips an important Biblical scholar of the 20 th century wrote a memorable book in 1961 called Your God is Too Small Phillips worried that modern Christians were missing the all encompassing vision which inspired the Colossians The modern vision of God Phillips argued was too tame making God a buddy there at our behest to give us what we want He thought we d given up on a sense of God as the awesome power and purpose in whom all things in heaven earth hold together Perhaps these days JB Phillips could write a sequel entitled Your Church is Too Small But he wouldn t mean the numbers of folk in the pews No I think JB Philips would warn

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2010-archive/63-in-him (2016-02-13)
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  • Expect the Unexpected
    in us subtly rebels against giving over our future to God Partly it s that what God has in mind for us remains a mystery at least until Christ comes again for us in fullness and finality Mostly our reluctance to commit completely is a factor of wanting to control our own destiny We prefer the comfortable yet small view of God Nancy spoke of last week because surely OUR time is OUR time And if that is so then we need to keep God out of OUR time What is the Almighty Creator and Controller of all time accomplishing by invading and intervening in our time and space in this flesh and blood Jesus God hasn t hijacked our days and our existence just taken our time back done the unexpected Today s Gospel is disconcerting images of reality we prefer God would change predictions of a world turned upside down People enjoying themselves until tragedy strikes Going about normal daily activities together until one soul is taken and another is left behind All is quiet and secure until a burglar a thief breaks in a home invasion And the purpose of it all according to Matthew Therefore you also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour Matthew 24 44 Expect the unexpected With God there is an up side in all matters under heaven God works in mysterious ways in the accomplishment of his will Shift your thinking from end of world stuff God s spirit moves through creation and stirs the hearts of people unexpectedly The Lord s gracious purpose is not to take from us the life we have and have become accustomed to but to give us more than the life we have dreamed of In a helpful re focusing of the Gospel s end times rhetoric Herbert O Driscoll challenges us Suppose Jesus is not talking about the end of the world whenever and however that will be Suppose he is saying that at an unexpected hour there comes into all our lives something that tests us deeply that demands we come to terms with it that forces us to be accountable about what we have and what we are that will turn us back to what we really believe that will require a grace beyond ourselves if we are adequately to respond Suppose this is true Then maybe our Lord is saying to us Keep spiritually awake be spiritually ready The Word Among Us Year A Volume 1 H O Driscoll And what could be a finer preparation for God s people this Advent Christmas 2010 A pastor tells the story of a man who had open heart surgery He was told by the doctor he had no more than a 50 50 chance of survival during the surgery But he did survive The pastor visited him post op and said You did survive after all Isn t that wonderful The man said No preacher I

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2010-archive/66-expect-the-unexpected (2016-02-13)
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  • The Curmudgeon's Commitment
    in the reign of God Neither John the Baptist nor Neal thought they were spiritual supermen I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the sandals of God s chosen one said John He was referring to the action of a slave in those days John didn t think he d measure up to a slave in the presence of God s chosen one He had no holier than thou attitude though he must have seemed a very holy man to the crowds Nor would Neal ever call himself a paragon of virtue though he probably is Both these men could see the urgency of their moment so they called others to recognize with that same urgency the great opportunity we have to participate in God s new creation by putting our faith into action Still there s no doubt about it These committed curmudgeons make us uncomfortable Their integrity seems almost intimidating So John the Baptist gets sent to jail out of sight out of mind And Neal becomes a newspaper hero someone too good to be true But to write these characters off because they set high standards is to turn away from God s intentions for us all Why do they make us uncomfortable Not because they are too demanding No I think it s because at a very deep level we know they are right Their uncompromising righteousness puts us to shame They remind us that we all make compromises with integrity from time to time a nudge here a wink there We do little things and big things that we know are less than honourable not quite true to our best intentions things we might not want to justify to God And so meeting an honourable person gives us a twinge of conscience We defend ourselves against Neal and his arguments against John the Baptist s intense commitment because we are reluctant to pay the cost of living out our faith with such consistency The curmudgeon s commitment reminds us that we could do better And that s why the second Sunday of Advent is hard to face The texts are uncompromising The demand is high It s not the tender light from manger shining from this candle We are caught in the harsh light of gospel scrutiny and we all fall short Likely we all have someone like John the Baptist or Neal in our lives Maybe it s David Suzuki or Al Gore with their constant pleas to make changes for the long term good of the environment Maybe it s Dr Phil or Oprah who remind us each day of things we could do to improve our relationships Or maybe it s a friend or neighbour who embodies some essential goodness with such consistency that we feel judged by their commitment The person doesn t have to say a word We judge ourselves in their light And judgment whether proclaimed aloud by a Neal or a David Suzuki or felt instinctively

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  • Impossible Joy
    God s gift turns her life and the life of the world upside down And she has the starring role in the first act of this new possibility Once the angel answers her question it seems there is no holding her back Here I am Let it be with me according to your word On with the show this is it But then some of us aren t cast in starring roles We stand in the wings or sit in the audience Parents and grandparents know what joy they feel when the children they love get a part in the play But it s a different kind of joy than playing the lead role yourself This joy reflects the hope that someone dear will get their big break for the future It s like the quiet joy we know when we complete something an important project a lifetime career and we look back to see the difference we made As we get older our joy is not so much in taking up creative opportunities ourselves and imagining a new future we can create No we sense the joy in satisfying memories of what has been accomplished Our joy is tested by experience and trusts that possibilities have been fulfilled through perseverance and patience Still there is a risk for us as we mature Our joy is sometimes overshadowed by the possibilities that did not materialize We understand Zechariah s response to his angel How will I know a child will be delivered this time Sad experience can leave us discouraged about the future We want to say to Mary in her joyful enthusiasm Don t get too excited about that baby There will be sleepless nights diapers to change And those dreams for your son s future Remember dreams don t always come true The risk for maturing joy is that doubt and discouragement drown it out Doubt and discouragement drive a wedge between our memories of the past and our hope for the future This is what happened to Zechariah Based on past experience he didn t believe the angel Having witnessed too much disappointment he couldn t believe that God would call him back on stage and ask an old man to perform a lead role once more When we re young we are glad to get a chance to perform We re excited by an opportunity We can imagine a future filled with possibilities we have yet to experience There is joy in the possibility As we age we get used to sitting in the audience We know that not everyone gets chosen for a part We may enjoy the performance but we know we won t have a career on the stage We temper our enthusiasm Some joy seems impossible to us And yet the candles of Advent intend to reawaken our joy to energize us once more with the conviction that new life is possible even for us I got thinking about this after I

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