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  • 'Tis A Mystery!
    it all we cannot control it all we are not able to handle all that God in his providence has in store for us yet to be revealed So in our Trinity Sunday reading from John s Gospel I still have many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now When the Spirit of truth comes he will guide you into all the truth John 16 12 13a Understand this Jesus assures his disciples as he tries to prepare them for what lies ahead You cannot deal with all I have to say to you not yet That s why my Spirit of truth will guide you reveal uncover explain unpack my life story my teachings my hopes my love for you Imagine the wonder and glory of God s self disclosure before us in Jesus and the Spirit i e the Trinity the three faces personalities of God a community of equals The Trinity Father Son and Holy Spirit each has its own mission yet each is united in love We are in the habit of regretting that we are not able to see Jesus face to face to walk with him to talk with him to eat with him imagine what a super church supper that would be Yet because of Pentecost we do have the one whom Jesus sent the one with the same power the same witness the same knowledge of the truth This one is God s Spirit who speaks in Jesus place who takes up the work that Jesus left off who tells us the rest of the unfolding story of how God did once and continues still to engage God s people and lead them in truth George Buttrick was a popular American preacher in the mid twentieth century He tells of sitting beside a man on a plane trip As Buttrick was writing intently on a yellow note pad the man seated next to him interrupted him and said Excuse me I hate to bother you but you seem to be working diligently on something there May I ask what it is Certainly I am a Presbyterian minister and I am working on my Sunday sermon Oh religion the man observed I don t like to get all caught up in the ins and outs of religion Do unto others as you would have them do unto you The Golden Rule that s my religion And what said Buttrick do you do sir I work at the university he said I m an astronomer Oh said Buttrick astronomy I don t like to get caught up in the ins and outs of astronomy Twinkle twinkle little star that s my astronomy a Ph D scientific mind with a pre school faith not all that interested in truth There is so much more to be revealed if we re ready to believe it Do we want to know Maybe not Especially as we get a little longer in the tooth

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/248-tis-a-mystery (2016-02-13)
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  • Open Hands
    means But sometimes it s hard to imagine what the original storyteller had in mind Still Bible stories share the same qualities as other stories even jokes They set our imaginations going We can picture the setting and the action As the plot unfolds we get caught up with the characters with Moses staring at a flaming bush with David watching Goliath crumple to the ground with Mary and Martha anxiously waiting for Jesus to arrive with Peter when Jesus asked him to step out of the boat and onto the face of the water In our mind s eye we can be there We can feel the excitement or fear the disappointment or joy Any good story gets us involved But like King David we don t really expect the story to trap us We don t like to be caught even by the punch line of a joke So the question is how do we listen to Bible stories Are we really prepared to hear a word from God What would it mean for us if a Bible story was aimed right at us challenging the very thing we did last week or said yesterday Today I invite you to enter the scene in Simon s dining room and listen for the word that exposed Simon For we too may very well be exposed by the same story Simon was a Pharisee a good and religious man undoubtedly respected for his acts of faithfulness But at his dinner party he was mortified by a woman who created a scene over Jesus tears kisses emotion openly poured out in front of all his guests The woman had a questionable reputation Simon could not imagine why Jesus let her touch him Can you picture Simon standing there arms folded in distaste watching Jesus and the woman Perhaps Jesus caught a look of disgust on Simon s face for he turned to Simon and told the story about the two debtors It ends with the question with only one answer Simon which one will love the creditor more Sigh The one who was forgiven more I suppose But Simon was the kind of man who thought he needed no forgiveness So the story trapped him Jesus was saying to him Simon if you cannot see your own need of God s forgiveness you will not know how to love God The one who is forgiven little loves little Compared with the woman at Jesus feet Simon could see no need in his own life And so he was not open to receive forgiveness or love So the question for us is When we hear this story which character do we identify with Simon or the woman Are we people who come reaching out gratefully for God s forgiveness like the woman Or do we stand back with our arms folded like Simon and compare our lives with others Do we find others more in need of God s grace than we

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/249-open-hands (2016-02-13)
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  • More than we can ask or imagine
    devastations God is not known in tornado earthquake or flood God s power is not at work in such destructive forces It is in the sound of sheer silence that Elijah meets God The sound of sheer silence The very words have power And yet how often do we encounter sheer silence Even when everything in our lives that hums or talks or rings or tweets is turned off are we engaged by sheer silence Or does anxiety stir us up and fill quiet moments with worries about what might happen and how we ll never cope If silence descends do we start planning the next day or the next vacation or our next corporate takeover in order to hold silence at bay Perhaps our fears and doubts push silence away because we fear or doubt there will be anything anyone to engage us in the sound of sheer silence Such inner busyness even in the wee hours of morning disturbs the possibility of sheer silence But the story of Elijah reminds us that God is known in silence silence which honours wisdom deeper than our own silence which values not how much we can do on our own but who we are as a small vital piece of God s vision God is known in silence that trusts in a purpose and a power greater than our own scheming Elijah had to learn it wasn t all about him it wasn t all up to him to carry out God s purposes For God is able to accomplish more than we can ask or imagine as the Letter to the Ephesians declares You see Elijah had made two crucial errors in judgment First he figured he was all alone the only faithful one left standing in God s name And secondly he d run away given up surrendered to his fears So God asked him twice What are you doing here Elijah And then God sent him back into the thick of things knowing he was needed for God s purposes and that he wasn t the only faithful servant on whom God relied Elijah met this truth in sheer holy silence when his frenzied inner argument stopped and he could sense God s presence and power at work within him The importance of this story for us on our 130 th Anniversary struck me when I read these words from a card from Margaret Campbell a member of St John s throughout the 1970s 80s On June 17 even before the flooding began Margaret wrote the congregation of St John s has managed to maintain a vigorous Christian witness through 130 years of upheavals and difficulties There have been the ups and downs of CPR passenger freight services two World Wars the Great Depression the crazy sixties the 9 11 attacks the electronic revolution and now globalization Throughout all these changes St John s has been a stabilizing force for individuals and the community of Medicine Hat And

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/250-more-than-we-can-ask-or-imagine (2016-02-13)
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  • What are the consequences?
    people turn away from faith because there are no headlines available no star status for accepting baptism no reality TV show for daring acts of discipleship Do we need more hoopla to attract disciples these days And what are the consequences if people turn away uninterested in the simple gifts and simple acts of faith in Christ It s an important question to mull over Do we think there are any consequences when people shrug off God s invitation to new life because like Naaman they can t see the value in something as simple as following Jesus Luke s story about the seventy followers Jesus sent out suggests some consequences which may make our generation a little uncomfortable Those seventy disciples were sent out to prepare the way for Jesus offering the gift of God s peace to any household which received them with hospitality And Jesus cautioned his followers not to be choosy Wherever they re welcomed whoever took them in would receive a blessing Simple right Except that the story contains a consequence for those who were hostile or couldn t be bothered to invite Jesus friends in If the missionaries were not welcomed in a town they were to wipe the dirt of that town off their feet Now that was an insult to the town to be sure but more ominously it proclaimed that such a town was beyond God s concern A pretty severe consequence for failing to welcome God s peace and good news The verse we didn t read at the end of the story says this I tell you on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than that town Sodom you remember was the legendary city in Genesis burnt up by God s wrath for its lack of hospitality to strangers Now it s interesting that the lectionary clips off that final verse ending the story sternly but not ominously Many in our generation myself included are uncomfortable with the threat behind those words We don t like to imagine the burning wrath of God poured out on anyone anymore I would rather offer the promises of God as good news as a gift to be claimed as something so important relevant encouraging that no one should live without claiming those promises for their own I suppose I was shaped in honey not vinegar school of theology in the carrot not the stick school of preaching I m not inclined to threaten people into submission to Christ But we know there are lots of preachers who still pour hellfire brimstone on unbelievers Plenty of Christians raise the fear factor about the fate of those who don t respond in faith For such believers the consequences of unbelief are pretty clear It will be more tolerable for Sodom But what do we think Are there any consequences for those who do not welcome God as part of their lives Is it OK to think that what God asks of

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/251-what-are-the-consequences (2016-02-13)
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  • The Familiar Samaritan
    priest and a Levite respected religious leaders fell short Samaritans were outsiders to the majority of their neighbours In our culture the story would maintain its original bite if we substituted the Good Muslim or the Good Sikh who respond in a commendable way after a Catholic priest and a Protestant elder walk by the injured man The story takes us back to affirm that original childhood instinct common to children across cultures to help whoever we can even with some extra effort on our part But the story adds the twist of difference challenging us to see in those who make us draw back at first another person worthy of respect a good neighbour who can be helpful or helped out The Good Samaritan is an enduring story because we know it in our bones and yet we need to hear it again and again Even those of us who grew up hearing it often can lose track of its challenging edge I remember visiting a city in Brazil with the World Council of Churches I was taken on a tour of the city by a Methodist woman before we went to her church for worship Now Brazil is a country of huge contrasts very rich very poor but they are all proud of their soccer heritage So this woman drove us to see the site of the new stadium still under construction hoping we would marvel at its immense proportions five times the size of the Saddle Dome But my eyes were attracted to the makeshift shacks tucked around the edges of the construction site where poor people mostly children found shelter at night under scraps of building material after spending a day begging My host followed my glance and cut off my question with a scathing remark about beggars and thieves Yet I couldn t help but notice her beautiful jewelry as we got back into her car a Mercedes At church I sat in on her Sunday School class when she read the children the story of the Good Samaritan Inwardly I shook my head saddened by her lack of empathy for children who had to beg because otherwise they d starve We do seem to be living in a time when empathy is hard to come by The flood of stories we hear about bullying driving teens to suicide attempts reveals a kind of pack mentality where no one stops to consider the feelings of their target or the consequences of spreading malicious photos or false rumours How can such bullies have grown from babies who had that instinct to be helpful that innate sense of empathy We could ask the same question about street gangs or anyone who commits violence whether as an act of terror or for personal gain What turns someone from helping to hurting I remember the first time this question occurred to me I was a student minister leading summer programs for children in churches across Northern Saskatchewan One week

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/252-the-familiar-samaritan (2016-02-13)
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  • First Place in Everything
    old soul who has been coming to us since before time began Paul offers us a vision of Christ Jesus which can t be explained in family analogies or manger scenes His vision is rooted in the unity of Christ with God the Creator a unity so intimate and so generative and so foundational that it has produced continues to produce everything that is All things have been created through him and for him And then comes the punch line In him all things hold together Paul paints this magnificent vision of the cosmic Christ to assure us that Christ is in some way connected to every piece of God s creation that ever was and ever will be So we can trust in Christ all things hold together Christ has to be first in relationship and in time in purpose and priority in order that all things will hold together First first first Now if I am honest about the first born in my family there is a sense in which my big sister helped me hold many things together Being first born she had to do everything first I could watch and learn from her She went to every school I attended before me so she could show me where the mud room was but she also showed me I could manage school when I got there I remember watching her take on algebra while I was still doing arithmetic It scared the bejeebers out of me But she survived it and so did I The first born in our families paved the way for the rest of us After all our parents practiced on them We younger ones learn from first born mistakes too so there is a real sense in which the eldest in a family often helps the rest of us hold it all together as we observe them take on life s curve balls first But whether or not we have an older sibling to lead the way it is an important faith claim to say Christ is before us in all things In Christ all things hold together Whatever challenge we are facing what place in the family we hold if we trust Christ is before us we know we do not meet any challenge alone And if we trust that as the first born of all creation Christ is connected in some mysterious way to every particle of creation then in every relationship every situation we encounter Christ holds all things together for us and with us No piece of our experience is beyond his touch or his concern Yet in order to experience this profound gift offered to us in Christ Paul challenges us to give Christ first place in everything If this statement is to be anything more than lip service it implies that we will ponder every attitude every loyalty and allegiance to see that our perspectives are shaped by our faith in Christ and not vice versa But

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/253-first-place-in-everything (2016-02-13)
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  • Religious or Spiritual?
    or congregations where conflict or mean spiritedness has wounded someone s heart The history of violence between competing religious viewpoints is also held against religion While all these examples do point to the sinfulness of religious people the same critique fits other people movements too Star athletes like Lance Armstrong who bewitched the world with lies while he was doping to win the Tour de France politicians who have betrayed public trust in expense scandals or prostitution stings police officers who enforce law with a little brutality on the side all deserve the same kind of critique Yet no one would say we should give up sports or politics or policing because of a few bad apples So perhaps you can see why I m a little skeptical when someone says I m spiritual not religious I always want to ask how consistent someone is in their critique of things religious St Paul would also have us ask about what it means to be spiritual In Colossians he was a little skeptical about spiritual teachers who urged the celebration of unusual festivals or the worship of angels practices that still fascinate some folk today So just what does it mean to be spiritual Is it simply to feel drawn into the mystery of the universe under a starry sky or in the quiet depths of the forest Is spirituality to appreciate beauty in music or art or to engage the discipline of an exercise practice like yoga or prayerful meditation Is it to interpret your own dreams and visions or to try to live up to your own definition of being good In my experience of those who consider themselves spiritual independent of any established tradition or movement I usually hear some self authenticating measure for judging what works what is good for them There is often a book a speaker a conference or friend that has pointed them to their preferred spiritual path And sometimes such spiritual people are evangelical about their path recommending it to others with a missionary zeal which mirrors the practices of organized religions They may defend their mentor or their spiritual practice as rigorously as any religious believer But for such spiritually independent people their right to be their own spiritual authority is what appeals The freedom to think whatever they like without fear of contradiction or critique trumps the debates over interpretation of tradition innovation which characterize virtually every religious movement with a long history including our own So you see when I reflect on the history of religious movements alongside this more independent strain of spiritual practices I see the same risks emerge in both streams the very risks St Paul had on his mind when he wrote to Colossae There is a risk that we individually or collectively make our own views or way of living or practices normative not just for ourselves but for others And we can become defensive or even go on the offensive to prove the benefits

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/254-religious-or-spiritual (2016-02-13)
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  • The Power of Stuff
    you and yet stuff maintains its power over us The next appealing in store display we see the next new toy the neighbour brings out and we ll feel that little tug in our hearts No we can t take it with us but wouldn t it be nice to enjoy it for a day or two The power of stuff is unrelenting in our culture As I listened to flood victims interviewed right after they evacuated I heard people say We re all OK We ve got each other That s what really matters But now feelings have shifted The inequity between what insurance companies will pay rankles People want their stuff replaced And laminate counter tops won t do if we had granite before Our stuff matters to us even when we ve seen how vulnerable it is to flood or tornado or just the passing of years Both our readings today warn against the power of stuff Life does not consist in the abundance of possessions says Jesus Greed coveting things is idolatry warns Paul valuing stuff in place of God in our lives What is it about our stuff that matters so much Why can t we be satisfied with just enough With laminate instead of granite If we look closely at the letter to the Colossians we ll see what Paul thinks At the very end of our reading for today he makes his pitch about what really matters When we put on Christ we are clothed not with designer names but with God s love So we no longer measure each other by those categories which imply who is more important or good to know Greeks and Jews Celts and Scythians slaves and free such social and cultural categories are no longer to be relevant in our personal relationships We look at each other not from a human point of view that point of view so vulnerable to stuff and the status it brings We look at each other as beloved in Christ And that s why St Paul warns us not only against coveting stuff but also against anger malice and slander all those emotions behaviours which diminish other people cutting them down to size the very people we are meant to treasure in Christ Our defense against the power of stuff is found in our identity in Christ an identity which offers us love forgiveness confidence peace those freely given gifts Christ has clothed us in It doesn t matter what label is sewn into our jackets what brand of cell phone or car we ve chosen Our designer is our Creator And in Christ God has stripped off the labels stripped off the stuff we use to impress ourselves each other In Christ we are renewed in our sense of value and purpose so that the distinctions our stuff creates among us don t matter Our challenge then is to cultivate an appreciation for ourselves rooted in the trust that God

    Original URL path: http://stjohnsmedicinehat.ca/worship-and-the-arts/sermons/2013-archive/256-the-power-of-stuff (2016-02-13)
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