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  • God's Own Way
    like this Neither character is a model of faithfulness The brothers are caught up in family dynamics not of their own making Esau is the favourite of his father Isaac Jacob favoured by mother Rebekah Their rivalry begins in the womb Jacob the little brother is born clutching the heel of his older brother already trying to catch up These days we feel the unfairness in the arrangements of the ancient world For thousands of years the first born son always got two thirds of the entire inheritance Any other brothers split the remaining third the girls well they got nothing but a wedding But Jacob is cunning enough to rearrange tradition And underneath this brewing family feud is the startling implication that God is not bound to honour ancient institutions like the rights of the first born son God will see to the future in God s own way even the future of conniving schemers like Jacob With God there is no birthright to count on This story stands as a cautionary tale to anyone who thinks their privilege is guaranteed by birth or status in the community or anything else Esau is here to remind us we can lose it all if we re not paying attention This old story declares that God does not side with social entitlement God will see to the future in God s own way Here s a lesson the Church is learning the hard way these days If we ever thought that Christians had a birthright in Canada that the Church would always enjoy prominence privilege in this land we are learning that we may have frittered away our standing with younger generations who have no particular interest in any faithful birthright Perhaps we have presumed too freely that God would protect our rights whether or not we ve treasured the gifts God has given us and used those gifts wisely Maybe it s time for us to learn the lesson of Esau that God does not guarantee anyone s birthright just because it s what tradition taught us to expect God will see to the future in God s own way Well then should we be more like Jacob take destiny into our own hands and manipulate things for our own benefit We only have to read the next two chapters of Genesis to discover how much trouble Jacob bought himself through his cunning He ends up fleeing for his life when Esau realizes he s been conned We ll also see that Jacob the con artist can also be conned by his father in law Jacob is hardly a role model for us But perhaps we can find some comfort in the thought that God does not require moral perfection in order for us to have a future with God God will see to the future in God s own way As I reflected on this story and its deep ambiguities I recognized its temptation for us It s so

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/330-gods-own-way (2016-02-13)
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  • On Jacob's Ladder
    fragile life Voice This is none other than the house of God This is the gate of heaven Edward surprised the doctors who had turned off his life support He lived four months He was cuddled and fed his mother s milk with an eye dropper His father read him Winnie the Pooh He even left that sterile bubble came home for a few weeks He died in his mother s arms She said to me I wanted Edward to be baptised not because I thought God would love him more or even save his life I wanted to tell the world that even with all the things that went wrong for him Edward was a person God loved She held her son on Jacob s ladder every day of his short life Singing We are climbing Jacob s ladder we are climbing Jacob s ladder We are climbing Jacob s ladder Soldiers of the Cross Stop here The jeep pulled to the side of the road We unlocked our doors and looked around cautiously You don t ride in a car in Guatemala unless the doors are locked I thought I was looking at a cornfield ready for harvest A beautiful volcano loomed on the horizon Maria led us through the grain We came to a white wooden cross planted in the field partly hidden by the corn Suddenly I realized what had happened in that place Voice This is none other than the house of God This is the gate of heaven The cross marked the spot where Maria s husband Manuel had been murdered a year earlier He was a Presbyterian minister He documented human rights violations in his parish One night he didn t come home As I looked into Maria s eyes I saw both the pain and the courage she found in his memory She had moved house six times in the intervening year for she too had become a target She wanted me to see that place the holy ground where Jacob s ladder touched the earth again for Manuel Maria now the gate of heaven Singing Every rung goes higher higher Every rung goes higher higher Every rung goes higher higher Soldiers of the Cross Easter 1979 my first Easter in my first congregation Newly ordained I was a girl minister back then so young I often blazed in where wiser angels feared to tread My church was filled with wise and faithful people most of whom were old enough to be my grandparents They hadn t had their own minister for nearly 10 years so they were glad to welcome this girl As we were getting to know each other I asked the elders when we should plan Communion services In many of Presbyterian churches four times a year for Communion is judged to be sufficient but this small church had depended on the kindness of neighbouring ministers so Communion happened only once in a while The elders had no idea

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/331-on-jacobs-ladder (2016-02-13)
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  • What would you do for love?
    him Of course he will work another seven years for Rachel Think about it Fourteen years of manual labour to earn his heart s desire It s a challenge of fairy tale proportions And Jacob gives himself completely to the challenge It s what you do for love So here s the link between Genesis the Gospel reading for today The little parables in Matthew also tell us what love requires A tiny mustard seed gives itself away completely in order to produce the amazing hospitable bush upon which birds can depend There is no seed left over The yeast that the baker woman sets in the flour leavens the whole mass of dough No yeast cake remains It s all dough Likewise for the fellow who discovers the treasure He commits all he has to buy the whole field to ensure that wondrous treasure is his Same for the pearl merchant When he finds the perfect specimen of his entire career he can t put a down payment on that pearl It s all or nothing And that s what we do for love put it all on the line Now we can look at these parables in two ways First we can see snapshots of God s deep love and commitment to us Even a small seed of God s love can transform itself into a gracious hospitable tree which welcomes a huge variety of birds in shelter and security God wants us all to find shelter in God s great love in a gracious hospitable church The yeast of God s love doesn t hold back either It leavens the whole lump of a life the whole lump of the world because God s love is as persistent as a bit of yeast working in 100 pounds of flour as patient as a pair of experienced knuckles kneading our lives to transform us totally with love In a similar way we can think of Jesus as the traveller who recognizes the treasure hidden in the fields of our lives as the merchant who spots a pearl of great price in us He spends all he has to claim us for himself It s what God will do for love In Christ God has given it all for us Yes us But then we must turn the parables around turn Jacob s story around and let the passion and commitment at their heart work on us How do we respond when someone is so in love with us that they will give themselves completely for the sake of that love It can feel a bit overwhelming But here is an invitation worth considering What will we do to claim God s love If we re half hearted we ll be like a mustard plant that withers before the tree grows strong enough to welcome the birds If we re careless or distracted in our discipleship we won t notice the treasure lying before our very eyes Can Jacob

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/332-what-would-you-do-for-love (2016-02-13)
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  • Can you imagine?
    story this week is the link between Jacob s wrestling match with God and his encounter with Esau his estranged brother Jacob limps away from his strange night time encounter declaring I have seen God face to face The words are scarcely out of his mouth when he sees Esau on the horizon His fear returns Jacob bows low to show Esau he means no harm Yet Esau runs to meet his long lost brother embraces him kissing his cheeks weeping on his shoulder This is not what Jacob imagined Esau doesn t even want to accept Jacob s peace making gifts He has all he needs Stunned by his brother s openness Jacob utters these crucial words Truly to see your face is to see the face of God Those words really got me thinking Can it be that in the faces of our adversaries those from whom we are estranged we will see the face of God Is that why in times of conflict and broken relationships we lie awake wrestling in our turmoil Are we wrestling with something God is trying to say to us through the face of that one we ve cut out of our life It s not exactly a comfortable thought that God takes us on in the midst of conflict not to assure us we are on the side of righteousness but rather to confront us with something we re avoiding in the face of our opponents That thought made me reconsider my four estranged colleagues challenging me to see not just the wrong I feel they ve done but also to recall what good they ve contributed to the church the world to see where my judgment may have blinded me to way things could have worked out differently Now I leave you to consider what God may be saying to you in the face of someone from whom you ve been estranged However I want to turn our thoughts to the world stage the implications of this story for the nations For in the stories of the Hebrew Bible key characters always represent tribes nations not just individuals In this story Jacob becomes Israel fathering that nation through the tribes of his twelve sons Esau is destined to father the nation of Edom neighbour to Israel Esau s family tree fills a full chapter of Genesis giving Edom a Biblical foundation as clear as Israel s At first these brothers these neighbours live peaceably but the reconciliation Jacob and Esau embrace in today s story does not seem to last Later prophets pictured Edom as one of Israel s enemies as if these brothers grandchildren returned to feuding We have only to look into the conflicts of the Middle East today to see their animosity and rivalry dramatized over over again What began to trouble me deeply this week is how both modern day Israel modern day Arab nations keep failing our common heritage in this story Remember Jacob is

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/333-can-you-imagine (2016-02-13)
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  • Liquid Mountaineering
    just simply trust Jesus Every day like we sang in our hymn this morning So while this is good advice that s really all it is To only take from this story that we need to simply trust Jesus and that we need never take our eyes off him is selling the story short If all we take from this story is that we should have strong faith when we hop out of the boat then we aren t taking away anything about what Jesus actually does Because what Jesus actually did in this story was reach down and take Peter s hand when he began to drown I keep trying to put myself in Peter s place I ve never been in a situation where someone has literally had to grab onto my hand and pull me up to save me I guess there was one time when I almost fainted and a nice man who I didn t know noticed I was going to topple over soon and he took my hand and helped me sit down Maybe you have a similar story But I m not sure if what I felt in that moment were the same feelings Peter would have had I would imagine that before Jesus got him up into the boat and before he felt maybe relief and safety he felt ashamed ashamed that he took that big step and almost drowned and ashamed that Jesus had commanded him to do something and he literally floundered I think shame is something we can all definitely identify with I think the worries and problems in life that make us feel ashamed are the ones that can make us feel like we re drowning the most and are the ones that can make us feel the most like Peter in this story This is the kind of worry where we feel like the pressure is all on us We feel like its something we can t talk about with anyone else it feels like we are in it on our own and that nobody has ever felt the way we re feeling It can be insanely difficult and isolating and we ve all been there We ve all been there whether the problem was big or small and whether it had to do with ourselves with our family with our money with our relationships or with anything else affecting our day to day lives As much as Jesus can t take away problems we face he can lift us up from them a bit or a lot and help us to get back in the boat so at least it doesn t feel like we re swirling around with the waves drowning When we re back in the boat we re looking at the waves from a much healthier perspective Our problems and worries may not be gone but it doesn t feel like we re drowning in them anymore We hear Jesus call to Peter

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/335-liquid-mountaineering- (2016-02-13)
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  • Practicing what we preach
    if someone they love dies or isn t healed that it s because their faith was not strong enough or they were not persistent enough We know that that is not true A second attempt at cleaning up this story is sort of funny The original Greek word for dog in this story is kunarios which actually means little dogs or puppies So perhaps Jesus was actually saying It s not fair to take away children s bread and feed it to the puppies Does this take the sting out of Jesus response to the woman that at all It doesn t really make me feel better about it Neither of these attempts really clean up this story for us or do enough to explain away Jesus strange behavior Matthew is showing us a very human Jesus He s in a foreign land with his disciples and is focused on his mission to the lost sheep of Israel his people Matthew is also not subtle in his description of this woman who comes to Jesus and his disciples while they are on this mission He calls her Canaanite which is odd because at this point in time the term Canaanite wouldn t have been used But by using that term he portrays this woman not only as an other but also as an enemy She s someone who you would not expect to approach Jesus She is an outsider Not one of Jesus or the disciple s people So after reading some of these things I then came across a question posed by a minister about what might be going on here in this story He asked Is it possible for Jesus to learn For me that opened everything up Perhaps this feisty faithful woman a complete stranger and an outsider pushed Jesus to reconsider something to learn and to grow I don t think when we ask this we re questioning Jesus as the Son of God but we re now wondering about how God s own purposes might have gradually unfolded throughout Jesus life and ministry We see that unfolding taking place in this story If Jesus can learn he learned through this outsider woman that God s kingdom and mission are much much bigger than he may have initially imagined or dreamed and that he was not there just for the lost sheep of Israel but for everybody Something else I learned this week that was awesome is this This story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman is placed in between two feeding stories in Matthew The first feeding story is where 5000 were fed After this there were 12 baskets of bread left over The number 12 in the bible was often used to represent the 12 tribes of Israel the traditional divisions of the ancient Jewish people But then the second feeding story that comes after is the feeding of the four thousand but after this feeding there are seven baskets left over Seven is

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/338-practicing-what-we-preach (2016-02-13)
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  • The Pet in the Pit
    grudge against Jacob It seems God also has an eye for these lesser lights the supporting actors in our stories even while the favoured ones star in God s plans In this family saga the force of human preference is blunted God s intentions have a wider embrace than the human heart can muster So if we ve ever been inside that circle of jealous brothers resenting someone who received more favour than we have it is worth remembering God has good intentions for us too as well as the pet in the pit However consider the fact that this old story has been reminding us for nearly three thousand years how playing favourites can bring so much bitterness pain into human relationships Still after all this time we seem not to have learned its lesson Think about it Our society is plagued by favouritism and the resentment it provokes We have only to think about the uproar which ensues when a politician hires a friend in a juicy role or bureaucrats use their position to benefit at public expense or CEOs receive bonuses worth more than most of us will see in a lifetime Virtually every week such events remind us how much people still resent favoritism and how often we vote against it at the next opportunity You d think our leaders would know better after 3000 years But the same dynamic can even emerge in religious life When I served a two point charge in Ontario I had people in each church say to me that they were convinced their previous minister liked the other church better but they were sure I liked their church best Really I was just glad we all seemed to get along But at an even deeper level churches and religious traditions are often engaged in a tug of war over God s approval God loves our church my church best God loves Christians Jews Muslims my group best We don t like favouritism in our families or society and yet we all want to be someone s favourite God s favourite But if today s story from Genesis shows us the cost of playing favourites then Matthew s story reveals God s response to the pain and division favoritism can create One interpreter I read calls Matthew s story the feeding of the 20 000 reckoning that most of those 5000 men would have had a wife and a few children in tow all those women and children Matthew didn t bother to count Faced by this huge crowd of fans and hangers on at first Jesus disciples could only see the problem too many hungry people and nothing to share They pleaded with Jesus Send them away to find something to eat They have no claim on us Let them look after themselves But Jesus was emphatic You he says You give them something to eat You is repeated twice in the Greek text Jesus wants his disciples to know

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/340-the-pet-in-the-pit (2016-02-13)
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  • The Right Place and the Right Time
    sees in the dream is not too favorable Famine a recurring plight in ancient Egypt is on the horizon again Can Joseph tell the truth The Pharaohs of Egypt were very powerful rulers interested in military success and great building projects How do you deliver bad news to someone so powerful Remember Joseph knows already what it costs to fall out of favour with powerful people Will his head be on the block again It s not easy to tell hard truth to people in power but that s what Joseph does He finds the courage to say what he knows to be true trusting the unwelcome truth is nevertheless God s truth Seven years of plenty will be followed by 7 gruelling gruesome years of drought famine and hunger Having delivered this bad news Joseph then has the spunk to propose agricultural policy to Pharaoh He must now insist that 20 of production in every year of plenty be held in reserve It s the kind of enforced savings plan no elected politician would want to propose Who wants to save for coming disaster when everything seems to be coming up roses Save 20 every year You re kidding Pharaoh We d rather stick our heads in the sand But Pharaoh takes Joseph at his word He perceives the wisdom in Joseph s hard truth Perhaps Pharaoh even admires the courage it takes to tell an absolute monarch what he doesn t want to hear So Joseph is invited to head up Egypt s first national wheat pool banking all that grain before anyone but Joseph is totally sure it will be needed Joseph finds himself in the right place at the right time to implement the wisdom of God not just for his own welfare but for the welfare of all Egyptians and it turns out for the welfare of the whole civilized world including Joseph s own family We can see God s greater plan unfolding in this story maneuvering Joseph into the place he needs to be But I think it is also worth seeing the human dynamics at work how much courage it took for Joseph to deliver bad news to forecast famine and hunger to a ruler who would prefer to hear his kingdom was under control What strikes me in the unfolding of Joseph s story is how the boy who was once a favorite has learned not to play favorites Joseph has become a man of integrity not someone who curries the favour of powerful people but someone who sticks to his principles and delivers the hard truth he knows to be God s truth This is the calling of people of faith to say what we know to be true no matter what the cost While I reflected on this story and its message I remembered two professors who lost their posts at a leading Canadian university a few years ago because they dared to publish results of drug trials unfavorable

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2014-archive/341-the-right-place-and-the-right-time (2016-02-13)
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